Even though we associate fun and excitement with the youth, research has now proved that true happiness comes only with age. The "party animal" culture is losing out to the serenity of the twilight years because when it comes to being happy in the real sense, older Americans score far better than the youngsters.
Various studies on how people are at various ages have revealed that it's the elderly who rule the roost in this regard.
In a questionnaire by General Social Survey repeated since 1972, the researchers get to detect trends and to make comparisons among groups and to see how the same people changed over time, by asking whether they are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy.
Conducted by researcher Yang Yang at the University of Chicago, the study tried to analyze the core details of the survey and avoided the possibility that older people seemed happier because they were raised in a generation that was taught from an early age to be content with its lot.
In fact, the researchers found that those older than 65 had not always been happy, but they reportedly became content during the course of time.
"It is counter to most people's expectations. People would expect it to be in the opposite direction -- you start off by saying older people have illnesses, deaths of spouses -- they must be less happy," said Smith, who spoke about Yang's paper because she was not available.
After asking people about their problems, including physical ailments, problems with relationships, losing a beloved family member and becoming the victim of a crime, Smith found that while older people did suffer from a larger number of health problems, but they appeared to report far less difficulties overall, fewer financial, interpersonal and crime problems.
He said that the younger adults, though faced much less trouble with their health, they suffered from many other predicaments, which in turn may cause trouble for health in the long run.
While looking at job satisfaction among people of different ages, another study found that those who kept working past age 65 had the highest level of job satisfaction.
"A lot of people think of people working in their 60s and 70s as trapped in their jobs. Most of the people who continue working are people who like their jobs. Most older workers work because they enjoy their jobs; those who did not were mostly able to retire and pursue other things," said Smith.
Many researchers have supported Yang's findings and said that advanced age was positively correlated with feeling positive emotions, and at the same time they found that being older was negatively correlated with active emotions. Older people, in other words, had both more positive and more passive emotional states.
Catherine Ross, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin said that older people reported more loneliness -- a negative but passive emotion -- but they also reported much more serenity, a positive one.
"The reason we think the elderly have higher levels of depression is not because they have higher levels of negative emotions but that they have higher levels of passivity. If the problem is having lower levels of energy, maybe the answers lie in increasing levels of energy, like reading a book or taking a walk -- mental and physical activity -- taking a bike ride or a yoga class," said Ross.
She said that the sadness part may not be a negative emotion but may only be a manifestation of the energy level. Young people who are believed to have an upper hand in fact have high levels of anger and anxiety and also high levels of depression, compared to middle-aged adults.
However, younger adults were far more likely to have financial worries, troubled emotional relationships and professional stressors.
"The image of youth or young adulthood as the best time of life is probably not an accurate stereotype," she said.
The research is published in the American Sociological Review.