In a counterintuitive finding, most of us aren’t happy when we’re young. We’re actually much happier when we’re old. A recent research study found that people actually get happier as they get older. Most people’s happiness quotient grows significantly after age 50 and throughout their 60s. Nobody knows why this happens, but it probably has something to do with lower stress levels, fewer responsibilities, and the acceptance of who we are as people. These six factors may contribute to your late-life happiness.
1. Take your lumps. By the time you’re 60, you have lived a long time and weathered a lot of storms. A problem is just a problem, not the end of the world. When you get knocked down by an injury, a problem with your house, or your kids, you nurse your wounds, take a little time to recover, and then bounce back as good as ever. In short, if you make it to 60, you’re a survivor. You know not to focus on the negative, but to keep your eyes on the road beyond.
2. Know how to say no. It’s hard to say no to your kids when they’re little, or to your boss when you’re working. But you can say no to your adult children and the bubbly community organizer who wants you to volunteer for a boring or unpleasant job. Of course, you don’t want to say no to everything. It’s important to reach out and help others. But do the things you want to do, not the things other people want you to do.
3. Let it go. Do you bear a grudge against a neighbor, an old work colleague, or a family member? The object of your resentment probably isn’t even aware of your feelings. So your anger is doing you a lot more harm than it’s doing them. Anger causes stress levels to skyrocket, so don’t let people get to you. If it’s an old slight you’re worried about, just forgive and forget. If it’s something new, let it roll off your shoulders. After decades of experience dealing with people, you should know that some people are just selfish and thoughtless. Don’t take their insults or rude behavior personally.
4. Don’t worry what others think. By the time you’re 60, you should realize that people are not looking at you, they’re looking at themselves. So don’t worry too much about the clothes you wear, the car you drive, or the house you live in. Other people aren’t paying attention. You know now not to take yourself too seriously.
5. Nurture your relationships. By now you have sorted out who’s important to you, and who just gets in the way. You’re not stuck in a job anymore, where you have to put up with obnoxious co-workers. If you’re involved with toxic people, find a new friend or a new activity. Most 60-somethings hold their family and friends close. Also consider renewing old friendships through e-mail or Facebook.
6. Stay physically active. Regular physical activity is strongly associated with better health, which is key to happiness. Light to moderate exercise promotes a healthy heart and helps with weight control. It can reduce inflammation, enhances your immune function, and even reduces your risk of cancer. If you can add a social element to your activity, that’s even better. Take a walk with your neighbor, sign up for a dancing class, or play golf. These activities will get your heart pumping, and pump up your happiness quotient.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.