Everyone wants to be happy. It’s only natural. After all, it’s in America’s Declaration of Independence. “...life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", but what do old people in particular know about happiness?
Those who have lived through many decades of trial, tribulation and happiness can offer us valuable lessons on how to find, or choose, greater joy in our lives.
New York Times reporter John Leland followed the lives of six New Yorkers over the age of 85 for three years. He discovered after spending time with them that their initial concerns over being limited in their mobility or medical issues eventually gave way to a more positive aspect.
“When the elders described their lives, they focused not on their declining abilities, but on things they could still do and found rewarding,” said Leland in New York Times article titled, “Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person”
Leland points to what gerontologists call the paradox of old age: as people's minds and bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about their lives, they feel better. In memory tests, they recall positive images better than negative ones.
Those findings came from the Successful Aging Evaluation or SAGE study done by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Stanford University.
“Even though older age was closely associated with worse physical and cognitive functioning, it was also related to better mental functioning,“ said co-author of the study Colin Depp, an associate professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Leland got insight into this mystery by spending lots of time with old folks in their 80s and 90s he had chosen for his writing project.
“For three years, visiting them has been a lesson in living,” said Leland. ”Their muscles weakened, their sight grew dim, their friends and peers gradually disappeared. But each showed a matter-of-fact resilience that would shame most 25-year-olds.”
Leland’s series of articles called “85 and Up” became his book focusing on one year of the time spent with the older folks called, Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old.
Here are some of the secrets to happiness Leland learned from the “oldest old” in their 80s and 90s, most who were in assisted living or nursing homes. The words of wisdom come directly from the elders.
These elders who are 85 and older offer valuable wisdom for people of any age. Live with a sense of lightness and let go of the heavy burdens of physical illness and troubles as much possible, while still doing what’s necessary to deal with them. See people, places and situations in a positive light. Live, laugh and look forward to the future by choosing joy and happiness each day.
Leland, John, “Reporter Shares Life Lessons from a Year with the Oldest Old,” Fresh Air with Terry Gross, NPR
Leland, John, “Want to be Happy? Think Like an Old Person,” New York Times, Jan. 2, 2018, reprinted in the Australian Financial Review, Jan. 2, 2018
Leland, John, “Want to be Happy? Think Like an Old Person,” New York Times, Jan. 2, 2018
University of California San Diego, “Paradox of Aging: The Older We Get, the Better We Feel?” Dec. 7, 2012