Older is happier

Old people are happy. Happier, it seems, than their younger counterparts.

I just finished reading one of the well-researched articles in "Families in Later Life: Connections and Transitions." The book is a compilation of studies and stories, many of which conclude "older is happier."

So now you know. You can go ahead and keep aging — recognizing your social-emotional self will roll along a path of increasingly greater contentment. Older, happier — and less socially active. (This too, is supported in research).

Wait a minute. I always thought we needed social connections in order to be happy. I thought (maybe you did too) that close relationships with family, friends and neighbors were critically important aspects of aging optimally. Yes "¦ but.

Here's the researched reality. There's undisputed evidence that our overall rate of social interaction declines as we age (most significantly, after we reach age 80). We have far fewer direct contacts with family and friends (children are the exception). And we are less likely to volunteer or become members of a community organization. We are, in fact, more selective about what we want to do and, frankly, who we want to do it with — even who we want to talk to.

Our social networks may be as large as always, but we "are in contact with its members less often" — and that's just fine with happily aging elders, it seems. Perhaps we aging adults enjoy the anticipation of a contact as much, even more, than the actual contact? Think about that.

Older adults who were interviewed for these studies indicated their days "were numbered" and they needed to make more "careful choices about expenditures of time and energy." One of the considerations used to make these choices was "Is this new information?" "Is this something or someone I really need to know?"

We are "old" after all, and we've heard a lot of this stuff before — unless it's something "novel" or "fresh" we may just decide to pass.

As we age, we assess "cost" and "benefit" in coming to decisions about initiating or maintaining social contacts. We weigh the possibility (researchers say "the risk") of negative impact and act accordingly. As we age we want to invest in those things that give us information we need as well as a positive emotional outcome. We are happy, after all. We want to stay that way.

So "¦ now it's time for a commercial. Recognizing you're selective, I have a few social (and informational) opportunities I've personally screened. You may want to consider adding them to your social calendar. Or not.

AARP is sponsoring "Your Health: Wise and Safe Use of Rx" at the Rogue Regency on Tuesday, Sept. 30 (9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.). For those of you who struggle with Medicare, there are two presentations at the Medford library on Thursday, Sept. 25 (10 a.m. to noon and 6-8 p.m.). And there's the something-for-everyone at the Oregon State University Extension Open House (10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 13, on Hanley Road between Jacksonville and Central Point).

I intend to go to every one of these. I weighed cost and benefit and they all seem definitely worth doing. Maybe I'll see you there.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human services at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

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