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The New Age of Happiness

August 17, 2009

As more people live well into their 80s and 90s, researchers are finding that people get happier as they age and exert more emotional control than younger adults.  "Life expectancy changed because people changed the way they lived," said Laura Carstensen, PhD, one of the experts who spoke at the 117th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association held in Toronto. "Now that we’re here, we have to keep adapting. We are in the middle of a second revolution and it’s up to us to make adulthood itself longer and healthier." Carstensen, a psychology professor at Stanford University and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, said the percentage of people on the planet who are over 65 is expected to more than double by the year 2050, and the fastest-growing segment of the population is people over age 85. Susan Turk Charles, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine, presented a review of several psychological studies on aging and mental health. She found that except for people with dementia-related diseases, mental health generally improves with age. One study she cited–a 23-year longitudinal study looking at three groups of people, each at different stages in their lives–found that emotional happiness improved with age. Look for more on this topic in the August 18, 2009 Parentgiving Newsletter.