Harvard Women's Health Watch

In the journals: More happiness, less worry after age 50, study finds

With age, we inevitably develop more wrinkles, aches and pains, and more problems of all kinds with our bodies. But these unwelcome changes don't seem to get us down. People over age 50 are apparently happier and less stressed: we worry less and feel increasingly better about our lives, even into old age. These are the findings of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (online, May 17, 2010) that investigated age-related changes in two different aspects of well-being: overall satisfaction with life (global well-being) and day-to-day experiences of certain emotions (hedonic well-being). Though both are important, the authors say they're rarely studied together.

In the report, titled "A Snapshot of the Age Distribution of Psychological Well-being in the United States," researchers at Stony Brook University and Princeton University analyzed data from a 2008 Gallup telephone survey of 340,847 Americans, ages 18 to 85. The survey gathered information about age, sex, marital status, personal finances, health, and other topics. To assess global well-being, it asked respondents where they would place themselves on an imaginary 10-step ladder with "best possible life" at the top and "worst possible life" at the bottom. For hedonic well-being, they were asked whether they had experienced any of the following emotions during a large part of the previous day: stress, worry, anger, sadness, enjoyment, and happiness.

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