You’ve worked hard all your life, and now you can afford to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. But is that enough to ensure happiness in your golden years?
Not necessarily. Researchers have found that money is not a sufficient condition for happiness. Some people are happy despite modest means, while others unhappily live in affluence.
Three different strands of research shed light on the nature of happiness. Each offers some important lessons for people as they move into their later years.
First, research on optimism, pioneered by Martin Seligman, found that people who have an optimistic outlook are not only happier but also healthier and more successful.
Seligman’s definition of optimism is not just “positive thinking” or naively looking on the bright side. Optimists know that setbacks are inevitable, but they have confidence in their ability to cope with them. And they tend to view them as temporary, not as evidence of personal flaws.
Aging Well by George Vaillant presents another approach to happiness and health. Based on the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the book follows more than 800 men and women from adolescence into old age.
The study found that six factors, measured before age 50, can predict who will be happy and healthy at 80.
Those factors are:
- Not smoking
- Having a mature adaptive style, or stress management skills
- Not abusing alcohol
- Having a stable marriage
- Getting regular exercise
- Maintaining a normal weight
Finally, David Niven, in his book 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People, reviewed a large body of research to find specific practices that differentiate happy from unhappy people. Following is just a small sampling of the 100 secrets.
- Are open to new ideas. They never stop learning and trying new things. This is especially important when aging forces them to give up some of the things they used to enjoy.
- Don’t compare themselves to others who have more than they do. They compare themselves to people who are positive examples they would like to emulate.
- Keep their family close. They stay in contact and share news with family members.
- Don’t have to win all the time. They don’t display supercompetitive tendencies.
- Have realistic expectations. They don’t get everything they want, but they want most of what they get.
- Are not aggressive with friends and family. They know that, even when right, they gain nothing by arguing to the point of damaging a relationship.