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The Older You Are, the Happier You Get

Researchers Say Aging and Increased Happiness Go Hand in Hand

Seniors and Social Connections

In the second study, Cornwell found that older adults remain socially active, and they sometimes beat out younger folks when it comes to social interactions. His team evaluated the results of in-home interviews with 3,005 men and women, ages 57 to 85, none living in institutions, between July 2005 and March 2006. They were part of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a project supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The survey respondents were asked to list how many people they knew with whom they could discuss important matters, and then to tell how often they engaged in socializing with neighbors, attending religious services, volunteering, or being involved with organized groups.

The average "network" size was 3.6 people; older people are less likely to have larger networks because of retirement or the death of friends and family members.

But the older adults stayed socially connected. About three-fourths of the older adults participate in at least one of those activities at least weekly, Cornwell tells WebMD.  "This is a pretty impressive level of social connectedness, we thought," he says. "The real surprise here is that it's the oldest adults in this age group -- seniors in their 70s and early 80s -- who were most engaged in their community compared to those in their 50s and 60s."

The older respondents, in fact, were twice as likely to be engaged in the activities.

Why Seniors Stay Connected

One of the reasons for increased social activities among those in their 70s and 80s could be simply that seniors are out of the work force and have more leisure time, Cornwell says.

But Cornwell thinks the better interpretation is their adaptability. They may be showing their resistance to the isolation brought on by loss of a spouse or friends to death, he says. "It's an attempt to go back out and recapture a sense of belonging and connectedness to others."

People in their 70s and 80s, Cornwell says, "enjoy being in the community, and I think that's an important image. If people hold that in their mind, I think it would change the way we view old age."

Second Opinions: Age and Happiness, Social Connections

One strength of the Yang study is that it used sophisticated statistical methods to separate out what scientists call the "cohort" effect -- how what happened during the era in which you grew up affects you and your happiness, says Tom W. Smith, PhD, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Smith was not involved in her study but is familiar with the results. "If you think old people become depressed and grumpy, the good news is: no they don't," he says, adding, "We're talking about averages, and there are always ups and downs."

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