A 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology suggests that people become happier as they age. The study,”Paradoxical Trend for Improvement in Mental Health with Aging” was led by Dr. Dilip Jeste, a geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Centre of Healthy Aging at University of California.
The researchers interviewed 1546 people from ages 21-99. After the participants had the phone interview, they were asked to fill out a long survey asking about their physical, cognitive, and mental health. These self-reported questionnaires measured three variables: happiness (or mental health), cognitive well being, and physical well being.
This cross-section correlation, a type of study that analyzes data collected from a population at a specific point in time, found a positive linear relationship between age and happiness–meaning the older the people were the happier they were. The authors called this trend “paradoxical” because although older people were physically more disabled and had more cognitive impairment, they were mentally healthier than people in their 20s and 30s. They reported lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, and higher levels of happiness compared to the younger group.
One explanation for this finding was that younger people are under constant pressure with financial, education, romantic, and career-oriented demands. Furthermore, “compared to younger adults, older individuals tend to be more skilled at emotional regulation and complex social decision-making and tend to exhibit more natural information processing.”
However there are limitations of the study. First, because it was a correlational study, the results do not necessarily prove that people are actually getting happier as they age. There can be a lot of variables you did not expect like differences between people born during certain periods of time. Maybe the older people in the study have always been happy, and maybe the younger people will stay less happy. In addition, the results may be less accurate because the study uses self-reporting as it may create social desirability bias.
Given the results of this study, employers and others, in dealing with young adults, need to pay special attention to mental well-being as an issue and recognize the stresses that young people are dealing with.
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