Older, wiser and happier - why the over 65s are thriving

There comes a time in our lives when we all accept certain things about ourselves and our lives, such as the fact that we will never be a supermodel, or a CEO, or even a millionaire – and we are OK with that.

Indeed, that acceptance could be what makes older Australians happier, says Professor Lyn Littlefield. The Executive Director of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) says that people over the age of 65 are often more settled and less ambitious than their younger peers, which in turn makes them happier as a result.

The over 65s reported higher levels of wellbeing than their younger peers in APS’s latest survey, called Compass for Life, which involved 1000 adults and 518 adolescents (13-17). The survey is part of a campaign to help Australians measure and improve their happiness and wellbeing.

“I think that if you have got to that stage and possibly retired you do have more time to put into things that you really want to do,” Professor Littlefield says. “They can now reflect back on their lives and they are not struggling to be whatever it was when they were young. And they feel very comfortable about that. They’ve achieved quite a bit and their expectations aren’t the same.”

The professor says that the survey clearly showed that one of the strongest elements relating to a good sense of wellbeing was having very strong, supportive and positive relationships with other people. “Relationships need time and effort to develop them, enjoy them and maintain them,” she adds, speculating that perhaps older people had more time to get involved in their community and keep up with friends and family.

Other factors that were linked to a more satisfied life, according to the survey, included getting a good night’s sleep, keeping active, engaging in relaxation and/or mindfulness, eating well and having a hobby.

And, interestingly, in a world where it feels like we are more connected to more people than ever before – courtesy of social media – it seems that human contact is still what makes us happiest. The personal touch still matters.

The survey found that adults who were high users of social media reported significantly higher levels of loneliness and negative emotions, a result that initially surprised Professor Littlefield. “The fact that you are using social media a lot means you are not developing person to person friendships,” she says.

“I suppose that what that says to me is that even in this technological, digital age, it’s still the one-to-one personal relationships that matter. You can’t get the same over the internet, you can’t get that emotional bond with someone.”

Australians can visit compassforlife.org.au to measure and improve their wellbeing.

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