Mark Harvey — Older people are happier

I’ve pointed out, on more than one occasion, that there’s something to be said for not being dead. More specifically, that there’s actually quite a bit to be said for being an “older person,” so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that I was, of course, correct.

There are now multitudinous studies that support this rather simple observation: Older people are happier!

Kinda makes you feel better, doesn’t it?

Now, anyone who follows this little column with any degree of regularity knows that I have a problem with phrases like, “older people” — older than who? Pretty much everybody is older than somebody, and “old” doesn’t mean what “old” used to mean. And that “old” can be a state of mind as much as a chronological classification, and isn’t that really just another way to force an entire demographic into somebody’s pre-conceived, mental “box” so we can pretend that those “old people” are all alike and blah blah blah …

BUT, I want to let all of that go today, and just accept the phrase “older people,” OK? Older people are happier!

Seems a bit counter-intuitive from a certain point of view, huh? I mean, we’re pretty much done leaping tall buildings with a single bound (although, I know a few exceptions), and we often have meaningful relationships with legions of medical providers and health care insurers AND we may not go quite as fast for quite as long, then dance the night away (although, I know a few exceptions) AND a few of us don’t subscribe to daily TWEETS of twerking tips, BUT — we’re happier!

OK, not necessarily happy-happy, dance-around-and-clap-your-hands all the time, but “happy” in the sense of less stressed, more positive and generally manage to wring more enjoyment and satisfaction out of this giant pinball machine called “life.”


I have no intention of lulling most of us into a coma by citing this study and that study and who got paid how much to do the studying, or what person with what title gave a two-sentence quote which attempted to summarize what study from 30,000 feet — and missed. I’m not going to do that because I don’t care, and most of you don’t, either; but I am going to accept the conclusion (“Older people are happier”) for the same reason that almost all of us accept the conclusion of any “study:” Because I already agreed with it!

Older people are happier.

And, certainly, there are exceptions to such a glittering generality: “Older people” who are angry and bitter, or sick or poor — and scared. Or who are forced to spend every day just trying to get through every day, or whose losses overwhelm the present. I know.

I also know that a lot of us put our “challenges” in the backseat — everyday — in order to experience and enjoy the amazing ride — yes, the pinball machine — we call, “life.”

We tend to see priorities more clearly, and focus on what’s important, so we pay less attention to the “trivial,” understanding that it’s trivial, and will soon pass. We get less shook-up about fads and silliness, or any particular generation’s decorative affectations, understanding that it’s more about who you are, than how you look.

Or how you talk.

Or what gadget you are surgically attached to.

It’s about who are and what you do — MUCH more important than what you say — what you do. Who you are. And what you can contribute.

What I can contribute.

It seems, the studies say, that we’re happier because we are “armed with knowledge and experience.” Been there, done that — and learned … this. Which, many would say, is the whole point of living in a pinball machine, in the first place. To learn, to grow, to become more than we were.

Oddly — happily — we are not of one mind. We disagree. We see things differently. We learn, from what we’ve learned, and reach wildly different conclusions! But we tend to be a bit more tolerant of other people being wrong.

And, often, they are.

And we tend to be more offended by social injustice! Maybe that’s because we’ve seen enough to understand what that is and what that does, but I’m not a paid studier, so what do I know?

I know I’m happier.

Having trouble with that word? Me, too. Try … more content. Less stressed-out. More accepting. Less critical. More …insightful.

More … grown-up?

So what, huh? What should we take from all this well-studied stuff? Well, for one, maybe growing “older” is something to look forward to. Maybe it isn’t all about poverty and sickness and long-term care and Medicaid and and and … Maybe most of it isn’t about all of that. Maybe most of it is about growing-up, and realizing that “growing-up” is an ongoing process.

Maybe it’s about being able to just nod quietly, because we understand that there is no “there.” That it’s all about the journey. That the point of life is life, and we’re not dead.

Maybe it’s about understanding that wisdom doesn’t come wrapped in a pretty box, with a bow. Wisdom comes one scraped finger at a time.

So, why are older people happier? Maybe it’s because we finally figured out that we have nine more fingers.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information &Assistance.


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