Our happiest years come in retirement and decades after the age of 70.
If your carefree youth is a distant memory and you’re entering middle age with a sense of gloom . . . cheer up. The happiest time of your life is probably yet to come.
The demands of work and family may steadily erode our youthful sense of well-being as we reach middle age, but research suggests it returns in our later years.
In fact it is after 70 that we are likely to be at our happiest – as long as we enjoy good health, have sufficient income and are not lonely.
The conclusions are highlighted in a new book by Lewis Wolpert, the 81-year-old emeritus professor of biology at University College London, entitled You’re Looking Very Well – a familiar greeting to those of more advanced years.
‘What emerges is that people in their teens and twenties tend to be averagely happy but this declines steadily until early middle age,’ he said. ‘But from the mid-forties, people tend to become ever more cheerful, perhaps reaching a maximum in their late seventies or eighties.’
A study of 341,000 people by the National Academy of Sciences in America showed that overall enjoyment of life tended to decline slowly throughout early adulthood, rising again from around the late forties or early fifties to reach a maximum around the age of 85.
Similarly, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which has tracked more than 10,000 people over 50 since 2002, found at least half experienced an increase in well-being.
It appears that as we get older we make the most of the time left by eliminating things we don’t enjoy in favour of those we do.
But the study stressed that there were big differences between men and women and between rich and poor.
‘More affluent individuals have fewer depressive symptoms, greater life satisfaction, better quality of life and lower levels of loneliness,’ said the study.
Professor Wolpert says the quality of our relationships is also a key factor – a claimed backed by other experts on ageing.
Andrew Steptoe, professor of psychology at University College London, said: ‘We think that people who are old, in their sixties and seventies now, are different from those of 30 years ago.
‘They have more opportunities and their health tends to be better.
‘However, good health and a stable income are very important, along with maintaining relationships.’
And Professor John Bond, who studies social aspects of ageing at Newcastle University, added: ‘Even people with serious degenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s can retain their wellbeing for a long time if they have good relationships with the people around them.
‘In the end, it’s your friends and family that count most.’
Longer life expectancy and the prospect of a decades of healthy, active and financially secure retirement for many of today’s over-70s has enabled many to take on new challenges and learn new skills.
The book also offers hope here – for while maturity causes our physical stamina to decrease along with ability in fields such as mathematics, research suggests we gain proficiency in other areas such as language and decision making.
Scientists believe that as the brain reorganises itself to meet new challenges, new areas of connectivity are created between cells which can more than compensate for the loss in brain volume that goes with ageing.
In addition, the ‘emotional selectivity’ theory suggests that when we get older we are determined to make the most of the time we have left, maximising the proportion spent on what we enjoy and eliminating the things we don’t.
Via Daily Mail