Human Exceptionalism

Senior Citizens Happiest Americans

Studies about seniors being happy seem to have surprised a reporter. From the story:

Eye-opening new research finds the happiest Americans are the oldest, and older adults are more socially active than the stereotype of the lonely senior suggests. The two go hand in hand: Being social can help keep away the blues.”The good news is that with age comes happiness,” said study author Yang Yang, a University of Chicago sociologist. “Life gets better in one’s perception as one ages.” A certain amount of distress in old age is inevitable, including aches and pains and the deaths of loved ones and friends. But older people generally have learned to be more content with what they have than younger adults, Yang said.

Perhaps it is because they are not so self centered. Today’s elders are the Greatest Generation, who sacrificed so notably for things greater than themselves, and in doing so overcame the Depression, defeated fascism, set postwar Europe and Japan on a course to freedom and prosperity, and won the Cold War.
This comment from an “expert” made me laugh:

This is partly because older people have learned to lower their expectations and accept their achievements, said Duke University aging expert Linda George. An older person may realize, “It’s fine that I was a schoolteacher and not a Nobel Prize winner.”

Maybe I am being unfair, but can’t you just hear the word “just” before the words “a schoolteacher?” Somehow we shifted during the Baby Boom Generation from seeing our purpose as being a productive and integral part of a whole–and this is certainly not an original observation–to making the point of life about my desires, my ambitions, my choices. As I reflect back, that is sure what was going on at the times I went wrong and became (and made others) unhappy–and I hope I learned my lesson!
Wisdom is to be found here if we only look:

A separate University of Chicago study found that about 75 percent of people ages 57 to 85 engage in one or more social activities at least every week. Those include socializing with neighbors, attending religious services, volunteering or going to group meetings. Those in their 80s were twice as likely as those in their 50s to do at least one of these activities.

In other words, many seniors’ focus is directed outward, to faith, family, and community. Perhaps that is the key to the secret of life.
One last point: With so much talk of “bitterness” in the ether these days, let us ask: Who really are the bitter ones? It isn’t the folk–be they young or old–who “cling” to more traditional concepts of community and service, even in the bad times. (For example, I can’t tell you how many happy soldiers I have met in airports who beamed when I thanked them for their service and told me it is an honor and a joy.) Rather, the self-annointed intellectual and cultural elites are the ones who seem to be constantly wearing a frown.