How life gets better as we age

Many assume as we age life becomes less satisfying, but a growing body of research shows in many ways life gets better. Is it possible that everything we’ve been led to think about aging is wrong?This story in the Wall Street Journal makes the case.

“The story used to be as we age satisfaction with life went downhill, but the remarkable thing is that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Timothy Salthouse, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.

Growing evidence indicates:

  • Sense of well being improves with age
  • Friendships tend to grow more intimate with age
  • Intelligence continues to develop and expertise deepens with age
  • The ability to resolve conflicts by seeing problems from multiple perspectives appears to flourish with age

Of course, some people don’t age as well as others. Chronic conditions become increasingly common at advanced ages, but those who fall into the “stereotype of being depressed, cranky and irritable” constitute “no more than 10% of the older population,” said Paul Costa, a scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health. “The other 90% of the population isn’t like that at all.”

Here are five myths about aging that recent research has dispelled.

Myth 1: Depression Is More Prevalent in Old Age

According to a 2014 study, emotional well-being actually improves until the 70s. “Contrary to the popular view that youth is the best time of life, the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade,” said Professor Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity. Why? Older adults tend to focus on positive emotions and see the good more than the bad in life. “Older adults tend to be happier, less anxious, less angry and adapt well to their circumstances,” said Karen Fingerman, professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin.

Myth No. 2: Cognitive Decline Is Inevitable

Because of their vast knowledge and experience, older adults who are tested in real life situations make wiser decisions than younger adults. Studies indicate, barring dementia, older adults perform better problem solving in the real world than younger people. “Lab tests underestimate the abilities of older adults,” said Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Lab tests, “tell us what people can do in artificial situations” but in the real world “most of what we do is based on the knowledge we have acquired.”

Myth No. 3: Older Workers Are Less Productive

The stereotype is older workers are less adaptable and productive but studies show “there is no relationship between age and job performance,” said Harvey Sterns, director of the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron. In fact, studies show in jobs that require experience, older adults have an edge. “Older workers know how to avoid severe errors,” said Matthias Weiss, academic coordinator at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.

Myth No. 4: Loneliness Is More Likely

Most people add to their social networks until age 50 then they tend to contract their social circle to maximize interactions with “close partners who are more emotionally satisfying,” said Carstensen. “Their loved ones seem to mean more than ever.” This doesn’t mean loneliness isn’t a problem for some older adults but on average, older adults are not as lonely as young people. “Older adults typically report better marriages, more supportive friendships, less conflict with children and siblings and closer ties with members of their social networks than younger adults,” said Carstensen.

Myth No. 5: Creativity Declines With Age

Creativity has long been seen as a youthful trait but studies pinpoint midlife as the time when it can be the most prolific. David Galenson, a professor at the University of Chicago, analyzed hundreds of famous artists, poets and novelists to see when they produced their most valuable work. His conclusion was creative genius comes into two categories: conceptual artists, who do their best work in their youth, and experimental artists, who need more time to reach their full potential. “People who are creative in older age aren’t anomalies,” said Galenson. Mark Twain, Paul Cézanne, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Frost and Virginia Woolf are just a few of the artists “who did their greatest work in their 40s, 50s and 60s. These artists rely on wisdom, which increases with age.”

Read the story here.


Reprinted with permission from