What Makes Older People Happy

The New York Times:

Every year, my husband and I wonder what kind of birthday gift to give his dad, now 86 years old. The newest gadget, which may be admired but almost surely will be put in a drawer? Something much more ordinary, like one of the cardigan sweaters he wears day in and day out?

 

We know very well what Mel would really enjoy: a weeklong visit with us and our children, with lots of time spent eating out in comfortable restaurants where he doesn’t have to strain to follow the conversation. But that is hard to engineer, since we all live far away.

The study findings are drawn from eight experiments all revolving around the same theme. In one of them, Dr. Bhattacharjee and co-author Cassie Mogilner, an assistant marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, asked people aged 18 to 79 to recall an experience that was extraordinary or ordinary, and then asked them to rate their emotional responses. The conclusion: happiness derived from extraordinary experiences remained fairly constant, but pleasure from ordinary experiences increased as people got older.

Another experiment demonstrated that an individual’s perception of the future — whether it was open-ended or limited — was a critical factor in explaining the results. This is consistent with studies by Laura Carstensen, a professor of public policy and psychology at Stanford University, which posit that older adults’ sense that time is limited alters their emotional perspective, causing them to invest energy in what is most meaningful to them.

“I really like this paper because it ties together several important lines of research,” said Jim Bettman, a professor of business at Duke University. Previous research has shown that experiences make people happier than material possessions and that sharing experiences with others generates the most pleasure.

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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