Men get happier in life until about age 70, research suggests
A middle-aged couple smile. (@HannaMonika / Shutterstock.com)
Published Saturday, February 22, 2014 6:50PM EST
New research being published in the journal Psychology and Aging indicates aging men are usually quite happy and carefree, though this can change as they approach 70.
Researchers from Oregon State and Boston University say reasons for this decrease in happiness vary but usually involve health issues, loss of spouse/friends, or mental decline.
"In general, life gets better as you age in the sense that older adults on average have fewer hassles -- and respond to them better -- than younger adults," said lead study author Carolyn Aldwin, a gerontology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University. "And they also experienced more uplifts -- at least, until their mid-70s."
"But once you turn 70, how you react to these hassles changes and may be dependent on your resources or your situation in life," she added.
Researchers looked at 1,315 men ages 53 to 85 via data from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. Men studied were predominantly caucasian, and healthy when the study began in the 1960s. The study sought to investigate emotional reactions of older adults and determine whether three previous (and contradictory) aging "models" had merit.
One model, the "hedonic treadmill model," theorizes happiness or unhappiness has relative stability throughout a lifetime, regardless of assorted obstacles. Another model suggests life gets better as people get older, while the third theory states life gets worse "rapidly" once a person turns 80.
The new study found evidence for all three theories, and depended on whether a person focused on life's "hassles" or "uplifts." Men also appraised these hassles and uplifts in proportion to their age: males noted life was good through their 60s, yet "hassles" started to take over once they entered their 70s.
However, life perception still greatly depends on the individual.
"What we found was that among 80 percent of the men in the study, the hassles they encounter from their early 50s on tended to decline until they reached about 65 to 70 years of age, and then they rose," Aldwin notes. "Conversely, about 20 percent of the men perceived experiencing more uplifting events until they turned 65-70 and they begin to decline.
"Some older people continue to find sources of happiness late in life despite dealing with family losses, declining health, or a lack of resources," she continued. "You may lose a parent, but gain a grandchild. The kids may leave the house, but you bask in their accomplishments as adults. You find value in gardening, volunteering, caregiving or civic involvement."
Aldwin also noted that thoughts on aging are neither completely "rosy" or "depressing," though how a person reacts to life's various ups and downs from the ages of 55 to 60 does factor in how they will enter "the fourth age," or the 75-100 stage of existence.
"Who falls into these groups and why can begin to tell us what kind of person ultimately may be happy late in life and who may not," Aldwin said. "Once we find that out, we can begin interventions."
Meanwhile, other studies have found there's still plenty to keep people happy well into their golden years.
For example, a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found maintaining an independent lifestyle and preventing chronic disease was quite simple, and involved staying positive and finding joy in "little things." Another recent study from the Office of National Statistics in the UK detailed how those who lived longer spent more time with friends.
Additionally, a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research examined the impact of age on happiness in regards to "extraordinary and ordinary life experiences." While young people tend to focus on happiness based on extraordinary experiences, such as travel to foreign lands or skydiving, older people find happiness from the ordinary things in life in addition to the extraordinary.