Attitudes About Aging Different from Reality

by Medindia Content Team on  June 14, 2006 at 2:32 PM Senior Health News   - G J E 4
Attitudes About Aging Different from Reality
A recent study has shown that reality was different from several misconceptions that people had about aging. A popular misconception among both the young and the old is that the happiest days of people's lives occur when they're young in spite of research having shown the opposite

While old age was equated with unhappiness for other people, individuals tend to think they'll be happier than most in their old age. In other words older people seem to "mis-remember" how happy they were as youths, just as youths "mis-predict" how happy (or unhappy) they will be as they age.

The research was performed by VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and University of Michigan researchers involving over 540 adults who were between the ages of 21 and 40, or over age 60.

Each of the participants of the study were asked to rate or predict their own individual happiness at their current age, at age 30 and at age 70, and also to judge how happy most people are at those ages. The results are published in the June issue of the Journal of Happiness Studies, a major research journal in the field of positive psychology

. According to lead author, Heather Lacey, Ph.D., a VA postdoctoral fellow and member of the U-M Medical School's Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine "Overall, people got it wrong, believing that most people become less happy as they age, when in fact this study and others have shown that people tend to become happier over time. Not only do younger people believe that older people are less happy, but older people believe they and others must have been happier 'back then'. Neither belief is accurate.'

These findings help to understand young people's decisions about habits like smoking or saving money that would have an effect on their health or finances later in life. In addition midlife crisis behavior among the middle aged is also explained through this research

Stereotypes about aging abound in our society, Lacey says, and affect the way older people are treated as well as the public policies that affect them.

Peter Ubel, M.D., director of the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine, in his studies has found that ill people are oft times surprisingly happy even as happy as healthy people. This has shown their adaptability or resilience in view of their medical problems.

According to Ulbel 'People's happiness results more from their underlying emotional resources -- resources that appear to grow with age. People get better at managing life's ups and downs, and the result is that as they age, they become happier -- even though their objective circumstances, such as their health, decline.'

The study was performed using an online survey with six questions, in four different orders. The participants had previously volunteered to take online surveys, and chose to respond to the U-M/VA inquiry. The two age groups were about equally divided between men and women. About 35 percent of the younger group's members were from ethnic minority groups, compared with 24 percent of the older group's members.

Each participant was asked to rate his or her own current level of happiness on a scale of 1 to 10, and also to rate on that same scale how happy an average person of their age would be. Each participant was also asked to remember or predict (depending on their age) their level of happiness at age 30 and at age 70, again on a scale of 1 to 10. They were also asked to guess the happiness of the average person at each of those ages.

A statistical analysis has shown that people in the older group reported a current level of happiness for themselves that was significantly higher than the self-rating made by the younger group's members. And yet, participants of all ages thought that the average 30-year-old would be happier than the average 70-year-old, and that happiness would decline with age.

Interestingly, the younger people in the study predicted that they themselves would be about as happy at age 70 as they were in younger years, though they said that others their own age would probably get less happy over time. And the older people in the study tended to think that they'd be happier at older ages than other people would be.

The researchers also plan to study how beliefs about happiness in young and old age influence people's retirement planning and health care decision making.


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