There’s excellent news for america’s largest generation! Just as tens of millions of Baby Boomers move into their golden years, new research reveals that our latest years may be our happiest. Could it be that youth really is wasted on the young? Young people usually enjoy high energy, peak physical condition, and that shiny optimism of starting fresh in life. But are they as happy as their parents and grandparents? A study from the University of Chicago shows that people are feeling happier and happier as they age.
Since 1972, researchers have been asking a cross section of Americans the same question: “…How would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Results show that feelings of happiness increase over time. The percentage of people who reported being “very happy” grew along with their advancing age. The University of Chicago survey is one of the most comprehensive studies of happiness ever done in America, and the findings should contribute even more to our happiness quotient. Looking forward to more contentment, satisfaction, and joy can really lighten our steps into the future!
“I’m a living example of this principle,” says Dr. Northrup. “My life has grown more fulfilling, more exciting, more rewarding year by year. As we age, we can continue to learn and grow and find ways to make a difference in the world that offer a very deep foundation for happiness.” Each stage of life has its own blessings, and though we may lose a little speed with the passage of time, we pick up life skills, understanding, and knowledge that give us more compassion for others and ourselves. Says Dr. Northrup, “We learn to forgive and accept ourselves for the magnificent beings we are. The pleasure we can experience once we allow it is truly incredible!”
University of Chicago sociology professor Yang Yang calls this the “age as maturity hypothesis”—happiness grows as people mature and make positive gains in self-integration and self-esteem. With the gifts of maturity can come a better sense of overall well-being. Growing older can actually make us feel better! We are learning to look at life and ourselves with a new perspective and a new appreciation.
Dr. Northrup recommends stepping into the future with an open mind and an open heart. While it’s true that life brings changes as we age, how we think about those changes can make all the difference. If we love and appreciate ourselves, we can learn to enjoy and appreciate every stage of our lives.
Here are a few of Dr. Northrup’s guidelines for meeting change with joy and hope:
- Embrace the Wisdom of Routine. When life hands you circumstances you can’t control, respond with things you can. Either start or continue at least one activity that is scheduled regularly. A regular routine is healing, calming, and reassuring. For Dr. Northrup, a daily exercise routine and twice-weekly Pilates classes have helped her stay grounded during difficult times.
- Enhance Your Daily Life. Find ways to bring comfort and beauty into your world. Making a fire in the fireplace, lighting candles on the dinner table, placing flowers beside your bed, listening to your favorite music are all ways to care for yourself. Treating yourself gently and kindly helps keep loneliness and discouragement away—self-care and self-love are always healing.
- Know That the Fear of Loss Is Often Worse Than the Loss Itself. The passage of time will bring change and loss into every life. Experiences we share are easier to bear, and Dr. Northrup has found that the changes she feared often turned out to be blessings in disguise. When her daughters left home to begin their adult lives, she discovered how much she could enjoy having only herself to take care of—more freedom to explore and discover her own needs and desires.
- Remember That We’re Stronger and More Resilient Than We Think. Facing a divorce and an empty nest in the same year was a difficult challenge, but Dr. Northrup now calls the experience “one of the most strengthening and exhilarating of my entire life.” “Looking back, I marvel at how far I’ve come,” she says. “By trusting in the Universe and being willing to roll up my sleeves and rebuild my life, I’ve become infused with the energy of hope, joy, and new beginnings.” Not only can we gain strength from helping ourselves, we can connect with others and share our strength. “Every day I’m reminded that the energy that supports new life abounds.”
Join Dr. Northrup in celebrating new life each day. Getting older is getting better—wiser, happier, and more loving, too!