Does Life Get More Fun as You Age?
Mar. 21, 2023 Psychology Today
I recently read the following quote in a magazine under the heading, Wit and Wisdom: “If you don’t have fun in your 20s, you’re never going to have fun. Life does not get more and more fun.” —Fran Lebowitz
I usually enjoy the wry humor of Fran Lebowitz, but this particular quote demonstrates neither wit nor wisdom. Unfortunately, many 20-somethings, along with children, adolescents, and middle-aged adults, regularly fall victim to this sort of ageist stereotyping. As a result, they dread getting older, believing that there is nothing to look forward to as they age.
Nothing could be further from the truth! In this post, I’ll reveal 12 wonderful things about aging that young and middle-aged people can anticipate. Most are based on survey research from around the world and not just my personal experience, although I couldn’t resist putting in my two cents here and there.
Why is it important to know the upsides of aging? Psychologist Becca Levy, in her book, Breaking the Age Code, has done massive amounts of research on how our images of aging impact our lifespan and health. Her work demonstrates that those who have positive images of aging live, on average, 7.5 years longer than those who have negative images of aging. Positive images of the older years are also linked to better health, better memory, a lower risk of dementia, and even a faster walking pace. It’s amazing that a positive view of older age can literally put more spring in your step.
Here is a quick summary of 12 major benefits of getting older:
1. You are still alive! Need I say more? Yes, it’s better than the alternative.
2. Older people are happier people. Surveys in the U.S. and in countries all over the world repeatedly confirm this counterintuitive fact. As I write in my book on healthy aging, Silver Sparks, “Polls of people…in 149 countries reveal a startling pattern…As they aged, older adults rated their life satisfaction progressively higher, with happiness rating rising gradually and steadily from age 50 through the decade of the 90s.” Life satisfaction IS fairly high in the 20s but not as high as it will be in the years after 60. Aging expert Laura Carstensen confirms that “research shows over and over that older people are happier than the twenty-somethings who are assumed to be in the prime of life.”
3. Older people are mentally healthy people. Carstensen has researched the mental health of older people and asserts that “People over the age of 65 have the most stable and optimistic outlook of all adults.” Emotional regulation also improves as we age, and depression is less common than in midlife (with the exception of the oldest old). A survey from 2016, described here, even found that “People in their 20s and 30s reported having the highest levels of depression, anxiety and stress, plus the lowest levels of happiness, satisfaction and wellbeing. Older people, surprisingly, were the happiest.” Why?
According to writer Jonathan Rauch, author of The Happiness Curve, getting older fosters a “positivity effect,” meaning older people dwell less on life’s downsides, notice positive events more than negative ones, and cultivate the “gratitude attitude.” And life is stressful for young adults. They have multiple responsibilities and life tasks, including learning the skills of independent living, finding an intimate partner, and securing a niche in the working world.
4. Older people have more choices about their work life. Not every older person is fortunate enough to have a strong financial foundation for the post-retirement years. But many seniors can design a retirement with a mixture of work options such as part-time employment, a second (or third) career, volunteer jobs, and/or just replacing work with leisure and fun. Others choose not to retire at all. As Margaret Mead famously said, “Sooner or later I’m going to die, but I’m not going to retire.”
5. Older people can focus on their own creativity and personal development, often for the first time in their life. Retirees can take a Spanish class, join a quilting group, cultivate their carpentry skills, study Greek and Roman history, write their memoirs or a novel—whatever strikes their fancy.