Find Life Gets Better Until Late 60s When Hassles Become Too Much
Some senior men continue
to find happiness late in life despite dealing with family losses,
declining health, or a lack of resources Oregon State study finds
By Mark Floyd, Oregon State University
Feb. 27, 2014 - A new study of how older men approach
their golden years found that how happy individuals are remains
relatively stable for some 80 percent of the population, but perceptions
of unhappiness – or dealing with “hassles” – tends to get worse once you
are a senior citizens at about 65 to 70 years old.
The reasons vary, researchers say, but may be
because of health issues, cognitive decline or the loss of a spouse or
“In general, life gets better as you age in the
sense that older adults on average have fewer hassles – and respond to
them better – than younger adults,” said
Carolyn Aldwin, a
gerontology professor in the
College of Public Health and Human
Sciences at Oregon State University and lead author on the
study. “And they also experienced more uplifts – a least, until their
“But once you turn 70, how you react to these
hassles changes and may be dependent on your resources or your situation
in life,” added Aldwin, the Jo Anne Leonard endowed director of OSU’s
Center for Healthy Aging Research.
Results of the study, which was funded by the
National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs,
are being published in the journal Psychology and Aging.
The researchers used data from the Veterans Affairs
Normative Aging Study, which looked at 1,315 older men ages 53 to 85 years of
age. The study group was predominantly comprised of white males who were
initially in good health at entry into the study in the 1960s. This
particular study aimed to take a fresh look at the emotional reactions
of older adults and evaluate whether three previously established, yet
contradictory models of aging had validity.
One of those models, known as the hedonic treadmill
model, suggests that how happy or unhappy you are is relatively stable
through your life, outside of a few up-or-down blips. A second theory
posits that in general things get better as you age, while the third
says your life will spiral downhill rapidly once you turn 80.
The new study, led by researchers from Oregon State
and Boston University, found some support for all three models,
depending on whether you looked at hassles or uplifts – and the age of
the men. How men appraised their uplifts was stable, the researchers
say, supporting the hedonic treadmill theory. But how they appraised
hassles depended on their age: Appraisals got better through their 60s,
but then started to become more severe in their 70s.
Nonetheless, Aldwin noted, some men respond more
intensely to life’s ups and downs than others, but both the perception
and intensity of these events is highly variable among individuals.
“What we found was that among 80 percent of the men
in the study, the hassles they encounter from their early 50s on tended
to decline until they reached about 65 to 70 years of age, and then they
rose,” Aldwin pointed out.
“Conversely, about 20 percent of the men perceived
experiencing more uplifting events until they turned 65-70 and they
begin to decline.”
The study drew from the perceptions of the men over
events in their lives that were big and small, positive and negative.
Self-regulation – or how they respond to those events – varied, Aldwin
“Some older people continue to find sources of
happiness late in life despite dealing with family losses, declining
health, or a lack of resources,” she said. “You may lose a parent, but
gain a grandchild. The kids may leave the house, but you bask in their
accomplishments as adults. You find value in gardening, volunteering,
caregiving or civic involvement.”
Aging is neither exclusively rosy nor depressing,
Aldwin said, and how you react to hassles and uplifts as a 55- to
60-year-old may change as you enter what researchers call “the fourth
age,” from 75 to 100, based on your perceptions and/or your life
“Who falls into these groups and why can begin to
tell us what kind of person ultimately may be happy late in life and who
may not,” Aldwin said. “Once we find that out, we can begin
The researchers on the study, who included Yu-Jin
Jeong and Heidi Igarashi of OSU, and Avron Spiro III of Boston
University, hope to expand their research beyond the limited VA sample
and look at the mental health outlook for aging women, minorities and
persons with varied economic and health backgrounds.
About the OSU College of Public Health and Human
Sciences: The College creates connections in teaching, research and
community outreach while advancing knowledge, policies and practices
that improve population health in communities across Oregon and beyond.
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