13 Mar Joy to the world! 4 simple secrets to enjoy a good life…
via Eric Barker
“Older and wiser.” You’re on board with that, right? Sure. But what if I said “older and more joyful?”
That probably doesn’t click in the same way. Physically, getting old sucks.
At ages eighty-five and up, one in three people say they have trouble hearing; 31 percent have trouble caring for themselves; half have trouble walking and living independently; and 28 percent say they have cognitive difficulty… Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and other dementias-all increase dramatically by age seventy and accelerate with each additional year.
Youth is all smiles and hope; old age is aches and pains while you count down the days to the end, right?
They did a study at Stanford University tracking the emotions of a group of people ages 18-94. Guess what? Older people are happier.
Older people consistently reported just as many positive emotions as the younger participants, but had fewer negative ones. They also had more mixed emotions, meaning that they didn’t let frustration or anxiety keep them from saying they were happy. Consciously or unconsciously, they were making the choice to be happy even when there were reasons to feel otherwise… Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, the researchers found that the emotional processing center of older people’s brains, the amygdala, fired more actively when they looked at positive images than negative ones; younger brains reacted to both equally. In this, older brains resemble the brains of people who meditate.
Elderly people are happier than younger people?!? Huh? But their bodies are falling apart! Their best years are behind them! How is this possible?
A lot of what we think we know about aging is wrong. We have a lot to learn about getting older. And, more importantly, a lot to learn from older people. Remember: they’ve been your age — you haven’t been theirs.
Author John Leland looked at the research on aging and spent a year shadowing a group of older folks to see what he could learn. His lessons are in the wonderful new book: Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old.
As he explains: “Old age is the last thing we’ll ever do, and it might teach us about how to live now.”
So here are four things we can learn about happiness from our elders…
Those Things That Make You Happy? Do Them.
We think of older people as set in their ways. Trying to get them to do anything new seems impossible. But what if instead of this being a weakness, it’s a strength?
Old people know what makes them happy. And they do it. We have plenty of things we enjoy… and we never seem to get around to them. People we love… that we don’t make time to see.
Older folks definitely miss out on some new stuff. And that might seem boring. But “new” often disappoints. And if your goal is to be happy, then why not do what you know will work?
One compelling explanation for the elders’ greater contentment comes from the psychologist Laura L. Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. Her hypothesis, which she gave the wonky name “socioemotional selectivity,” is that older people, knowing they face a limited time in front of them, focus their energies on things that give them pleasure in the moment, whereas young people, with long horizons, seek out new experiences or knowledge that may or may not pay off down the line.
And instead of simply doing those things that make us happy, we whippersnappers spend a lot of time on defense rather than offense. We play “discomfort whack-a-mole”, thinking that if we can just eliminate all the bad stuff, life will be nothing but rainbows and sunshine…
Old people know that’s impossible. There will always be pain in life. (Sorry.) Karl Pillemer of Cornell University makes the distinction between “happy in spite of” and “happy if only.”
We think we’d be “happy if only” every bad thing went away. And that’s ridiculous. Old people know there will always be challenges in life — but they choose to be “happy in spite of.” And that works.
Gerontologists consider the tendency to sustain mixed feelings, rather than try to resolve them, as a component of elder wisdom, a recognition that life doesn’t have to be all good to be good, and also that it never will be. Troubles are always with us, and getting rid of this one or that won’t make us happy; it’ll just move another hardship to the head of the class. Karl Pillemer of Cornell makes the distinction between “happy in spite of” and “happy if only,” the former being a benefit of old age, the latter a vexation of youth. “Happy in spite of” entails a choice to be happy; it acknowledges problems but doesn’t put them in the way of contentment. “Happy if only” pins happiness on outside circumstances: if only I had more money, less pain, a nicer spouse or house, I’d be happy as a clam… Fulfillment need not be what’s just around the corner. In the end, wisdom lies in finding it in the imperfect now.
Spend a little less time with all that is new and shiny and a little more time with what has always made you happy. Accept that in the game of “discomfort whack-a-mole”, there will always be more moles. But you can choose to be “happy in spite of” that.
(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)
So you’re making happier choices by going for the sure thing. But what’s something that can make you happier with what you already have?
…keep reading the full & original article HERE