Everyone knows that as we age, our minds and bodies decline, inevitably making life less satisfying and enjoyable. Everyone may also know that cognitive decline and becoming less productive at work as we get older are a fact of life. Everyone, it seems, is wrong.
Contrary to stereotypes of growing old – old age is a time of loneliness, depression and decline – a growing body of scientific research shows that, in many ways, life actually gets better as we get older.
“The story used to be that satisfaction with life went downhill, but the remarkable thing that researchers are finding is that doesn’t seem to be the case,” says Timothy Salthouse, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.
In fact, a growing body of evidence indicates that our moods and overall sense of well-being improve with age. Friendships tend to grow more intimate as well, as older adults prioritize what matters most to them, according to Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.
Other studies have found that knowledge and certain types of intelligence continue to develop in ways that can even offset age-related declines in the brain’s ability to process new information and reason abstractly. Expertise deepens with age, which can enhance productivity and creativity. Some go so far to say that wisdom – defined as the ability to resolve conflicts by seeing problems from multiple perspectives – flourishes with age.
Growing older does have its share of challenges and some people don’t age as well as others. It’s also true that at advanced ages, chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension and dementia become increasingly common and can take a toll on mental and physical health.
Still, according to Paul Costa, a scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, those who fall into the “stereotype of being depressed, cranky, irritable and obsessed with their alimentary canal” constitute “no more than 10% of the older population… The other 90% of the population isn’t like that at all.”
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