Life begins at... 65? The pursuit of happiness

According to recent ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures, people are recording the highest levels of life satisfaction and happiness between the ages of 65 and 79.

Surprised? Well don’t be.

Given the freedom to explore hobbies old and new with less of the traditional pressures of working life it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to find the over-65s are thriving. The opportunity to explore what makes a person happy, coupled with more free time to spend with loved ones, impacts positively on a person’s mental health. This lends itself to better all-round physical and mental wellbeing.

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Paul McLaren, who treats many middle-aged patients for stress at the Priory’s Fenchurch Street Wellbeing Centre in central London, said: “People are no longer old at 65 and are quite rightly savouring their sixties and seventies but we need to ensure happiness is experienced at a much younger age. Sadly work and financial pressures frequently mitigate against this. In contrast, many in their sixties are reinventing themselves - exploring their interests and dedicating their energies to fulfilling projects which fascinate and thrill them. From their perspective, every day is a gift. We could learn a great deal from this. As a society, we need to learn to do what the sixty-plus generation is doing much earlier in life. Work-life balance - and gratitude - have never been more important for our physical and mental health.”

It all adds up

When considering what creates stress people will often think immediately of:

  • Money
  • Job/Career
  • House
  • Children
  • Health

Under these headings there are doubtless many more subdivisions of worry and pressure, all of which come together and, taking into consideration ONS figures, peak around a person’s mid-to-late 40s. Add to this already lengthy list the potential illnesses of elderly relatives (ONS statistics show over-80s life satisfaction and happiness declines, most likely due to ill-health) and the result is as follows: those aged 45-49 reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction and happiness. The dissatisfaction a person feels in their day-to-day life impacts on their mental health and leaves them at risk to the perils of anxiety, stress and many other mental health problems. The question is: what can people do to change this?

Striking the right balance

As Dr Paul McLaren alludes to, what people can learn from the over-65s is the importance of ‘fulfilling projects which fascinate and thrill them’, but also what he terms the ‘work-life balance’. In making more time to pursue genuine interests and to spend greater amounts of time with loved ones, a person can find the life satisfaction they have been missing and, from this, a burgeoning sense they are doing something worthwhile. It is never too soon to start; as one side of life comes together, others can too, and this in turn creates the right environment to promote good mental health.

The over-65s are not immune to the various aforementioned pressures, whether they are concerned with their pension, still in employment, or their own health or the health of children and grandchildren. The interesting aspect the ONS figures highlight is that despite this, they are recording high levels of happiness, indicating they are finding the right balance.

Listen to your elders

The mounting pressures of life come to most people and it’s important to allow yourself time to step back from them and discover what makes you happy. The sagacious over-65s are enjoying a renaissance and the recent ONS figures support the notion that exploring your interests is conducive to greater life satisfaction and happiness. If people can learn from their wise approach and create a positive work-life balance at a much younger age, they will find life becomes a far more satisfying experience.

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