Turning 60: The Age to Be Happy

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Every one of us is blessed with some gifts, and every one of us has a unique idea of what happiness is. Someone may say that happiness is not distributed evenly: someone gets a little of it and mostly in childhood, while another one wakes up every morning and smiles, welcoming a new day, looking forward to new adventures and new experiences. Someone may qualify as a happy one, based on some social or physical standards, but may, in fact, feel rather miserable about themselves.

Is it possible to develop a formula for happiness that would be suitable for all? Well, as of today, all scientists can do is measure the average level of happiness in different countries by attaching it to some basic criteria like living standards, access to healthcare, or even climate. Scientists also try to determine what events and concerns make us feel better about who we are and what things bring us down, leading to frustration and self-doubt. Interestingly enough, they also attempted to determine some age frames where we can become the happiest.

Researcher Hannes Schwandt from the London School of Economics suggests two peaks of happiness in human life: the first comes at 23, and the second comes at 69. The study, “Unmet Aspirations as an Explanation for the Age U-shape in Human Wellbeing,“ was developed around a survey of almost 24,000 German citizens aged 17 to 85. The results were stunning: the sense of happiness that we experience throughout life follows a U-shaped curve, the peaks of which occur precisely at 23 and 69 years. The bottom point where life pleases us the least falls on 50 years.

Why exactly 23 and 69?

Well, it’s more or less clear with 23. That’s the age when we are feeling on top of our health and energy deposits, we are active physically, combining a job or two with college university, having wild parties and next morning off to the lectures and the evening is part-time working hours, and it seems like we manage everything. Besides, this is the age when we already have started accumulating some real-life experience navigating society, and by that age, many people already have more or less clearly outlined life goals that are stimulating and inspiring. Our parents and elderly relatives are not only alive but are independent, we feel more or less secure, and we are anticipating a “real adult” life, and we are looking forward to discoveries, achievements, and recognition. Even though the same study has proved that the expectations of this life period exceed the obtained result and satisfaction by roughly 10%, we still reminisce about our youth, looking back at our life. It can be attributed to the fact that we were living looking into the future where we could bring about change and tackle challenges with enthusiasm, and everything best seemed to be only starting.

Right, but what can make us jump off the bed in the morning when we close up to 70? Researchers believe that the secret lies in combining a few factors. First of all, it is the ability to find joy and fulfillment in small things and simple pleasures. We learn to downshift throughout life, and, finally, by our 60s, we actually start enjoying it.

Secondly, we often retire from our day-to-day jobs, and we have a possibility to live a life free from work-related duties, stress, and communication with bosses or colleagues who we might not find all that nice. Of course, a job we love and find rewarding fills life with a sense of purpose and positive emotions but let’s just be honest here: most often, we either feel overloaded and undervalued or feel like the world will stop if we ignore this email that arrives in the early morning.

Another interesting aspect that enables 60+ people to feel happier is lowering the reproductive load. Most children have already become responsible enough to care for themselves by this age. Moreover, if necessary, they can help their parents. Usually, children by this time already found their calling and work, many create their own families, and the stress of parents associated with concern for the well-being of children is naturally reduced.

According to Schwandt, people find themselves emotionally at “the bottom” when they turn 50. It is most likely related to the fact that people realize the inevitability of what’s waiting for them. The change is irrevocable as they can’t get back to their younger selves, and the bouts of energy no longer burst. The unmet aspirations and expectations are taken rather painfully. Besides, loneliness is lingering: this is the age when most of us lose parents and fall out of our social circle.  On the bright side, however, humans are very flexible by nature, and as soon as we settle in the new ways, we learn to adapt to new conditions and circumstances, we start recognizing their surprising advantages, and learn to deal with new challenges. It is actually quite possible to feel happier with every consecutive year. All you need is to follow a few simple strategies.

What can be done to make 60 your happy age?

First of all, live within the bounds of reason and treat your health responsibly. A large-scale study, “Does happiness itself directly affect mortality?“ that involved more than one million participants has proved that healthy people feel happier than those who have any kind of illness in the first place. Therefore, it is vital to pay attention to your health precisely at this time when the likelihood of developing chronic diseases affecting both quality and expectancy of life is particularly high. It is essential to take your nutrition into control and your lifestyle on the whole. The state of our health depends on them to a greater extent than the genetic predisposition or the quality of affordable healthcare. We need to learn to manage stress and spend more time in nature or at least outdoors, monitor the intake of vitamins and supplements, and do regular medical checkups.

There are a bunch of other simple habits backed by scientists that you can follow. Below are the most relatable and effective of them.

  • Spend quality time with your nearest and dearest

In his work “Stumbling on Happiness,” the Harvard social psychologist Daniel Gilbert claims that the time we spend with family, friends, or people whom we admire and respect can contribute to a sense of happiness way more than any purchases and traveling. Moreover, according to scientists, communication with close people is even more important for our sense of happiness than good health. So try not to lose touch with family, friends, and other people who you hold dear because this is your truest key to happiness.

  • Smile

Even if someone has spoiled your morning sunshine or you are caught in a wave of negativity, try to smile and look at yourself in the mirror. In their work “Smile like you mean it,” researchers of the University of Michigan argue that even recalling a funny story or your favorite comedy, the smile will garner genuine warmth, improve your mood, and you will feel much better.

  • Give to charity

Neuroeconomics from Harvard Business School came to the conclusion that even promising yourself to be more generous is enough to trigger a change in our brain that makes us happier. When we donate $500 to a good cause, we experience the endorphin buzz approximately equivalent to a $10,000 lottery prize. In their recent study, you can find more detail: “Generous people live happier lives. “ Thus, happiness can be multiplied if you share it with others.

  • Do sports

It looks like physical activity truly matters. The more active and frequent your sports activities are, the happier you feel — this is the conclusion made by Yale and Oxford Universities researchers and published in the analytical review “Exercise is more important for your mental health than money.” The study’s results, where more than 1.2 million people took part, showed that those who are regularly engaged in sports or lead active lifestyles felt happier twice as often during the year than those who preferred a sedentary lifestyle.

  • Meditate

There is such a curious bit in the inner part of the parietal cortex of our brain called precuneus that is involved with episodic memory of the past, visuospatial processing, reflections upon self, aspects of consciousness, and plans for our future. So, when we meditate, the amount of gray matter inside it increases. The study of “The structural neural substrate of subjective happiness,” published in Scientific Reports in 2015, confirmed the connection between the activation of this brain lobe and a sense of happiness.

What is the secret to happiness?

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all way to happiness. However, such simple things as caring about your own health, nurturing relationships with close people, attention and help to those who need help, as well as sport and meditationа, can contribute considerably to your feeling of contentment in life. And most importantly, remind yourself of the classic Forrest Gump quote: «Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.»

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