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People Happier, Less Stressed After Middle Age

Feelings of Well-Being Improve After Age 50, Research Shows
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 18, 2010 -- People are happier, less stressed, and feel better about themselves after age 50, new research indicates.

The study's findings are based on a 2008 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index telephone survey of more that 340,000 people, and researchers say the results show overall feelings of well-being improve as people pass middle age.

Emotions such as anger, worry, stress, and sadness vary by age in similar ways in men and women, although women across the board are more likely than men to worry and feel greater stress and sadness, say researchers from Stony Brook, Columbia, and Princeton universities.

Negative emotions such as stress and anger decline after the early 20s, and people over 50 worry less than younger folks, the researchers report.

The authors, led by Arthur A. Stone, PhD, of Stony Brook University, also say that factors such as having young children, being unemployed, or being single didn’t seem to affect age patterns of well-being.

Among key findings and conclusions:

  • About 35% of respondents reported a lot of worry through age 50.
  • Feelings of well-being may improve when children leave home because of reduced family conflict and fewer worrisome concerns.
  • People worry less about money and about having to pay for health care as they age.
  • Women scored higher than men on a measure of overall well-being, but not on a happiness score or one gauging enjoyment of life.

So why are older people on average happier and less stressed than younger people? The authors say it may be as simple as this -- with age comes increased wisdom and emotional intelligence.

Also, older people may “recall fewer negative memories than younger adults,” which makes it easier to control their feelings, the authors say.

The findings are based on telephone interviews of people aged 18 to 85, of whom 48% were males with an average age of 47.3.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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