Think of happiness as taking a U-shaped curve throughout life, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The bright side of that picture is that as you get older, statistics would argue that you can expect to find more happiness and emotional wellbeing. In the meantime, you are most likely to struggle with stress, anxiety, and depression in your earlier adult years.
“There’s this idea that old age is bad, it’s all gloom and doom and older people are usually depressed, grumpy and unhappy,” says study author Dr. Dilip Jeste, a geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at the University of California, San Diego.
The data was analyzed and collected from a sample of 1,546 people from ages 21 to 99 in San Diego. Participants were asked about their about their physical, cognitive and mental health in both a phone interview and a long survey that was filled out. Questions covered topics like happy and satisfied with life participants were, as well as how depressed, anxious or stressed they were.
People in their 20s and 30s reported having the highest levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as the lowest levels of happiness, satisfaction, and wellbeing. But while older people experience greater levels of deterioration in physical health, they were found to be the healthiest mentally and emotionally— more specifically, the 60s are going to be the height of your mental and emotional well-being, according to this study.
While the data was revealing about mental health, it didn’t control for the progression or digression of happiness or stress, anxiety, and depression in all these specific individuals throughout their lives. The belief this that the study may not have accounted for how answers may have changed through an individual’s life. But overall, “as they got older, it looks like things started getting better for them,” Jeste says. “It suggests that with age, there’s a progressive improvement in mental health.”
Other studies point out that modern life may legitimately be “easier” for older generations than any other time and easier than that of younger generations today. One study pointed out that depressive symptoms later in life had been on a steady decline between a 10-year span of 1998 to 2008. To further support that, more research also points to a growing rate of depression and anxiety in younger adults in recent decades.
“It is conceivable that the changes in societal functioning because of progressive globalization, technology development, increased competition for higher education and for better paying jobs and changing roles of women in the society are likely to impact young women and men more than they might affect older people,” Jeste adds. “Any relatively rapid changes tend to bring in stress for the people most affected.”
Maybe the shock of stepping into “real life” just takes some time to adjust to? Either way, there is added support to the idea that with age, comes wisdom…and maybe a little bit of happiness.