Positive Aging Newsletter-More from the Taos Institute

Happily Ever After: Emotions in Old Age

The stereotypes of aging as a time of regret, loss, and longing are one-sided and need to be challenged. Continuing evidence reveals that emotional well-being improves from early adulthood to old age. The present study adds significant new turn: More positive emotions are life-giving.

The research is based on a sample of 184 men and women spanning early to very late adulthood, and was conducted for more than a ten year period. The sample, carefully chosen to represent each generation, wore monitors for one week. At five random intervals during each day, participants reported their emotional states. This procedure was repeated five and then ten years later. Participants rated the degree to which they were feeling each of 19 emotions. The list of emotions included 8 positive (happiness, joy, contentment, excitement, pride, accomplishment, interest, and amusement) and 11 negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, guilt, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, irritation, frustration, and boredom).

As the results showed, with greater age there is higher overall emotional well-being and greater emotional stability. These findings remained robust regardless of differences in gender, ethnicity, and physical health. Contrary to the popular view that youth is “the best time in life,” the present findings suggest that the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the 7th decade.

Of great interest is also the fact that emotional well-being is related to longevity. Controlling for age, sex, and ethnicity, individuals who experienced more positive than negative emotions in everyday life were more likely to survive over a 14 year period. This does not mean that if you are unhappy now that your life will be shortened. Happiness so often depends on joining in social life, and remaining active. These are daily choices.

From: Laura L. Carstensen, Bulent Turan, Susanne Scheibe, Nilam Ram, Hal Ersner-Hershfield, Gregory R. Samanez-Larkin, Kathryn P. Brooks, and John R. Nesselroade Emotional Experience Improves With Age: Evidence Based on Over 10 Years of Experience Sampling. Psychology and Aging, 2011, 26, 21- 33.


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