The business of aging gets way too much bad press. In reality, life can get a whole lot better as we enter our fifties and beyond. In spite of diminishing physical abilities, as we age, we are more likely to feel happier than we have felt in decades. Getting older can be a time for freedom, fun, and fulfillment.
The U-Shaped Curve of Happiness
In general, research suggests that periods of life when people are the most satisfied with life follow a U-shaped curve; people are generally happy when they are young—before they start experiencing the stresses and anxieties of life –and then again when they enter their mid-fifties and beyond.
When I’ve interviewed or talked with other older adults, most all have consistently expressed satisfaction with their lives. One business owner in her seventies said that she was finally at the age where she was finally free “be a person” rather than to feel constrained by gendered roles. Another person who retired a few years ago said that she experienced happiness on a regular basis—she allowed time for fun in her life. A man I interviewed said he felt satisfied when he could give back to his community. These representative comments are certainly reflective of what research suggests.
Anticipating or Experiencing Retirement Can Boost Our Sense of Happiness
Anticipating or experiencing retirement may also contribute to our overall sense of happiness—especially if a person is financially prepared and has maintained a healthy lifestyle. In one study involving 990 adults of different generations, researchers wanted to know what words people used to describe retirement—whether anticipated or experienced. Interestingly, only ten different words accounted for about a third of all the words people used to describe retirement; three of those words included freedom, fun, and fulfillment. While I’ve heard each of these words used when talking with people about retirement, I believe ‘freedom’ is one that is most animating for many.
Freedom, Fun, and Fulfillment
When talking with retirees in particular, I will hear people say things like, “I’m finally free to do what I really want to do,” or “I can use my time the way I choose,” or “I’m free to just be me—I don’t have to impress anyone anymore.” Personally, I love the freedom I have as a retiree. For the most part, my time is my own, and my life is my own.
The idea of having ‘fun’ is subjective. When working and having very little time, buying ‘fun’ on the weekend can be a poor substitute for enjoying the everyday pleasures of discovery and whimsy. Whether finding time to laugh with a friend, play with a dog, run on the beach with a grandchild, or slash in a pool, retirement gives us more opportunities to explore different ways we can reconnect with a healthy dose of fun in our lives.
The need for fulfillment is important to most people—especially as we move beyond the busiest years of making a living and meeting other people’s needs. The late American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, theorized that all people had certain needs they were motivated to fulfill. According to Maslow, the highest need humans seek to fulfill is self-actualization or meaning in life. One of the ‘freedoms’ we get to enjoy in retirement is the opportunity to explore what gives our lives meaning. For some, that might mean serving their community. For others, it might mean starting a business, learning a new skill, or leaving some sort of legacy.
The joy of aging is one of the best-kept secrets in the world. We tend to be happier, have more freedom, more fun, and are more fulfilled than the majority of younger people. If someone suggests that aging is something to fear, then it should be clear how little they really know.