Age is not a predictor of happiness. On average, older adults are as satisfied with themselves and their lives as are younger or middle-aged adults. So to really understand happiness we have to look at other factors such as demographic and personal differences. Part of what determines a person's happiness is not exactly what is happening in the person's life but how the person perceives the event. That is why some people will experience the same event but one person will not be bothered or stressed by it but another will depending on how they see the event.
People tend to compare themselves to others and that comparison will determine whether the person is happy or satisfied with life. An older person can say they are in good health, but that “good health" doesn't mean the same as a “good health" for a young adult, but in comparison to other older people they are in good health. If they were worse off in health than other older people they may feel less happy and less satisfied with life because in comparison to others their age they are not doing as well. Same with money. . . . if a person compares themselves to others their own age in their community and feels that they are better off financially they feel good or bad if they are worse off financially, but if they are doing the same, then that person's level of life satisfaction doesn't go up.
In terms of personality, a person who is extraverted and low in neuroticism tends to have higher levels of life satisfaction because these people tend to form more satisfying and positive relationships. If a person feels they are in charge of their own lives and their own decisions they will feel happier than those whose lives are controlled by others and than those who think that luck controls their lives. People need to feel that they have choices and options. Even stressful changes in one's life can have little negative impact on happiness if the person's feels that they feel that they have control over the event. For example, a planned retirement is not as negative as an unplanned retirement.
Obviously happiness is made up of a combination of different things which is different for everyone. There is one predictor of happiness that is more potent than all the others and that is the person's reported happiness in marriage or family relationships. Satisfaction with one's relationships is a better predictor of overall life satisfaction than any other factor.
Those who age well are those who start out well. What does that mean?
Research has found that the most successful and well-adjusted middle aged adults were those who had grown up in a warm, supportive, intellectually stimulating family such as having good relationships with parents, having open-minded parents, and giving parents. There are exceptions. . . . not everyone who grows up in these types of families turns out well and some people don't have such good families and turn out well adjusted. What predicts health and adjustment at age 63 is health and adjustment at midlife. Take care of yourself now.
Visit my page for activity ideas in psychology for teachers and students. Great presentation ideas found here: http://teachingpsych.googlepages.com/home
Dr. Rita Oliviera