Except for dementia, even very old people are happier


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Among the most praised psychological research in recent years is Stanford professor Laura Carstensen’s work on happiness and aging. Through her studies, Carstensen has found that, contrary to popular opinion that young people are the happiest, people generally become happier as they age.

Even the oldest of the old can be truly contented, according to research presented today at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Assn. The fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population are people over age 85. A study by Susan Turk Charles of UC Irvine reviewed several studies on aging and mental health. Except for people with dementia-related diseases, mental health generally keeps improving with age, Charles found.


Carstensen’s work suggests that as people age, they have better emotional control and are less likely to despair over life’s bumpy moments. Research also shows that social relationships influence stress management.

Carstensen, who also spoke at the APA meeting today, has a new book detailing her findings entitled, ‘A Long Bright Future,’ (Broadway Books). Here are a few of her tips:

  • Envision ways to thoroughly enjoy the years that lie ahead and imagine what it would be like to live a healthy, happy 100 years.
  • Design your social and physical environments -- home, spending habits, eating habits -- so that your daily routine enforces your goals.
  • Diversify your expertise and activities to avoid putting your social investments into only your spouse, children or job.

-- Shari Roan