Going for golden

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

AS a culture that celebrates youth and beauty, we learn early on that adults are over the hill at 40. Birthdays aren't counted after 50. And by 60 the teasing has stopped and people are genuinely sympathetic.

But the joke may be on the young. New research is finding -- with surprising consistency -- that people become happier as they age. Physical and cognitive decline notwithstanding, the later years are for many people the best years of life.

It's a phenomenon that older people are surprised to discover and one that younger people find hard to believe, says Dr. Peter Ubel, director of the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan. "With a lot of variation from person to person, almost every kind of happiness tends to increase with age," says Ubel, who notes that "happy" is a subjective term that can mean good mood, feeling satisfied or having a sense of well-being. "The typical 75-year-old is more satisfied and happier than the typical 25-year-old."

The research also suggests why happiness increases over time -- which may lead to a more satisfying life whatever one's age.

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