NEW YORK - People believe happiness declines with age, new research shows, even though numerous studies have demonstrated that we actually get happier as we get older.
"Our stereotypes about ageing being an unhappy time of life are not correct... you have a lot of good times left in front of you," lead author Dr. Heather Pond Lacey, University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, told Reuters Health.
"We're probably better off expecting good things out of our futures."
Lacey and her colleagues surveyed a group of 273 subjects, who were an average of 31 years old, and 269 subjects, who were an average of 68 years old. Questions were asked about their current, past and expected future level of happiness, and about how happy they thought the average 30-year-old and the average 70-year-old were.
Both groups estimated that the average person would be less happy as he or she aged, but the self-reports confirmed that the older people were actually happier than the younger individuals, the researchers report in the Journal of Happiness Studies.
But younger people predicted no decline in their own personal happiness with time. Past research has shown, Lacey noted, that people tend to see themselves as "above average."
"We often make judgments about ourselves that are more positive than the judgments we make about other people," she explained.
Among the older people who thought they had been happier in their earlier life, their estimates of past happiness were higher than current happiness self-reports for the younger group. The older group also thought that they were going to be less happy as they aged.
There are a number of theories about why people may get happier as they get older, Lacey noted. For one, people may focus less on achievement and more on personal relationships and enjoying life, and also get better at managing their own moods.
"People are remarkable in their ability to adapt to circumstances, both good and bad, but they are perhaps equally remarkable in their inability to recognize their own adaptation," Lacey and her team conclude.
- REUTERSBy Anne Harding