Get Older, Grow Happier

Research shows that the Golden Years are Truly Gold
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Research shows that the Golden Years are Truly Gold

Now I know why all the septuagenarians I see on the trail look so darn happy even when it’s hailing and the temperature has dropped below freezing. While I’m cussing at the heavens for bringing misery to my idealized plans to go climb a mountain in brilliant sunshine, those older than I just laugh and watch the hailstones pile up around the pine tree we’re huddled under.

The AP-wire posted a story this week about the results of a 32-year University of Chicago study on happiness that found the older the person is, the happier they are. The story quoted sociologist Yang Yang who explained that “Life gets better in one’s perception as one ages. That older people have learned to be more content with what they have than younger adults.”

As the study pointed out, the odds of being happy generally rose by 5 percent each decade of life. That’s a pretty good deal, assuming you can clear the hurdle of mid life. The researchers did point to this stretch as the most unhappy period in adults' lives due to the stress of, what I’m going to assume are, children, career, aging parents, and worries about retirement.

But after that your happiness factor should blossom. I would add that if you’ve also kept yourself fit and active through all those years, you’ve really set yourself up for a golden age. For a great look at an extreme case of what life looks like if you stay in supreme shape, check out the profile of 75-year-old Don Wildman in this month's Esquire. Wildman is big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton’s training buddy and is famous for his 45-minute non-stop strength routine that keeps him in shape to snowboard 100+ days a year. The rest of the time he surfs and mountain bikes. He’s a bit nuts in his focus on staying fit, but there’s no denying that this focus allows him to live a more active life than any 20-year-old could ever fathom.

And damn, Wildman looks happy.

With that in mind, I invite all of you harried souls out there to pay the mortgage, file that report, make dinner, walk the dog, put the kids to bed, clean up the house, and carve out 30 minutes to sweat with a hard run, bike, or swim—or a game of soccer or hoops with the kids. Just get out and go, keeping in mind that you’re banking precious fitness that will yield dividends by the time you’re 70 and laughing out a hailstorm on a remote mountain trail.