Focus on the positive
Laura Carstensen from Stanford’s Center on Longevity is an authority on the wellbeing of older people. Carstensen found that older people are likely to experience more contentment and happiness than the young. A distinct difference was noted in the way that older people perceive time, Carstensen found that they encounter “shrinking time zones”. The less time a person perceives they have left, the more they focus on positive experiences in the present moment.
Can helping others make us happier?
Carstensen’s research also found a link between increased happiness and helping others, contributing a sense of purpose and meaning to the lives of older people. The happiest subjects of Carstensen’s research were also found to have the greatest levels of gratitude.
Research by Neuroscientist, Michael Kisley and neuropsychologist, Stacey Wood at The University of Colorado uncovered similar results. They examined the brain activity of adults who were shown a variety of images, positive (beautiful sunsets), neutral (an item of furniture) and negative (a traffic accident) . Younger adults paid significantly more attention to emotionally negative images. Older subjects were 30% less reactive than their younger counterparts.
Wood explains that older participants in the experiment were more able to control their emotions, maintaining a sense of emotional equilibrium and objectivity when confronted by negative information.
Positive psychologists have demonstrated that controlling our emotions, feeling gratitude and taking time to help others all have a significant relationship with happiness. What happiness lessons can be learned from older people?
Harnessing the power of gratitude for positive change
Research has shown that we can actively increase positive emotions by keeping a diary of events for which we feel grateful. You may want to establish your current gratitude level before beginning your ‘gratitude diary’. You can complete a scientifically validated gratitude questionnaire and develop insight into your own gratitude levels on Penn University’s ‘Authentic Happiness’ website. Completing the questionnaire after a few weeks of keeping a gratitude diary will also provide evidence of change to your overall level of gratitude.
Acts of kindness increase happiness
Carstensen’s research also demonstrated a link between helping others and happiness. Studies of the effects of kindness, such as that by Japanese researcher, Keiko Otake, suggest that people who perform acts of kindness can reap psychological benefits. The Random Acts of Kindness website offers a variety of suggestions to help you get started in performing random acts of kindness.
Measure your happiness levels
Again, before beginning the acts of kindness intervention you may find it useful to complete a questionnaire which measures your current level of happiness, such as the Fordyce Emotions Questionnaire . Repeating the questionnaire a few weeks after using this exercise will indicate any evidence of change to your current level of happiness.
Want to learn more?
Laura Carstenson talks about why older people are happier.
“When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age. ”
~ Victor Hugo~