There’s a new and encouraging reason to sense less stress about getting older. According to recently released scientific research, mental health improves with age.
“People who were in older life were happier, more satisfied, less depressed, had less anxiety and less perceived stress than younger generations,” explained Dilip Jeste, lead author of a new study conducted by the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging.
The team of scientists reported that of the 1,500 San Diegans who were surveyed, those in their 20s were the most stressed out and depressed. Continuing in a clear, linear progression, those in their 90s were found to be the most content.
It makes sense when you think about it. As people age and come to appreciate their mortality they tend to refocus their life goals. Enjoying relationships and participating in meaningful activities take priority over the challenges of exploring and expanding horizons. As a result, negative emotions become less frequent and less consequential.
There is no definitive finding to explain the relationship between aging and improving mental health. Speculation on the phenomenon ranges from physiological – with aging comes a dampening of the emotional region of the brain; to psychological and practical – unique pressures such as finding a career and life partner affect people in their 20s and 30s more so than later in life; to perspective — the wisdom that comes with age, as in “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, quoted in a Los Angeles Times article on the study, suggested positive societal benefits of this so-called “paradox of aging,” which contrast policymakers’ concern, will be “a population who is in good mental health, emotionally stable, more grateful, and more likely to forgive are a pretty great resource for a society with so much strife and war.”