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Do We Get Happier as We Get Older?

Most people don’t look forward to the changes that come with old age. It’s easy to focus on decline in cognitive ability, and the potential health problems and physical limitations. These notions can make old age seem less than satisfactory.

However, some research reveals that despite these general deficits, people may actually become happier as they age. Specifically, emotion regulation skills may improve with age, leading to decreasing negative affect, and more stable positive affect.

In general, older adults may have an increasing sense of life-satisfaction, and be able to regulate their emotions more effectively than younger adults, allowing them to experience longer-lasting positive emotions and more fleeting negative moods.

The way older adults process information has been shown to be different from young adults, as they tend to pay attention to more positive information and tend to recall more positive memories.

This has been termed the positivity effect and relates to the tendency for older adults to pay more attention to, better remember, and put more priority on positive information than on negative information.

One reason this may the case is that as people get older and reach the last quarter of their life, their emotional well-being becomes much more important.

Learning to mange emotions is a skill and competency that develops with age and as we decide that this is a priority we learn to apply this capacity more effectively.

Simply put, knowing their life is getting shorter, older adults have greater motivation than young adults to regulate emotional states, and may alter their environmental circumstances and expectations to support positive experiences.

For instance, older adults potentially have fewer overall difficulties than young adults when it comes to future expectations. Some research reveals that “older adults increase positive affect by reducing the discrepancies between current states and goal states, either by lowering standards, or by shifting goals away from unmanageable areas and toward manageable ones (Lacey, 2006).”

Socioemotional goals become much more of a priority, and engaging in activities and surrounding themselves with people that maximize happiness takes precedence. As well, older adults may be retired and have less work stress, and they may have a greater sense of faith and spirituality.

There is also a potential adaptive function to this increasing happiness. There is a large amount of loss that comes with old age, and this ability or tendency to increase well-being can be viewed as a way to cope and manage the difficult adjustments that occur.

It’s common for people to want to preserve their youth. There is a sense that getting older is a burden, but as research reveals, this is unfounded.

We can begin to change our values as we age and start to view our self-concept and meaning through things other than appearance and power, and enjoy the wisdom and emotional maturity that emerges.

Photo credit: deepres


Lacey, H. P., Smith, D. M., & Ubel, P. A. (2006). Hope I Die Before I Get Old:  Mispredicting Happiness Across the Adult Lifespan. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 167-182.

Do We Get Happier as We Get Older?

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2011). Do We Get Happier as We Get Older?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Oct 2011
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