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We Are as Old as We Feel

Happiness in Older Age

Whichever way you look at it, getting older in years is a process involving an inevitable steady decline. That’s the bad news. Is there any good news? One good thing is that many large scale studies would suggest that, on average, levels of happiness and contentment can rise as we get older. We tend to savour and appreciate life’s precious moments.

Another surprising nugget from psychological research is that our rate of ageing can be influenced by how we think and feel. An amazing experiment led by Harvard psychologist, Ellen Langer, in 1980, involved putting a group of men in their seventies into an old converted monastery that had been designed to evoke the year 1959. They wore clothes from this period. Also, the surrounding furnishings, books, music, TV programmes and news programmes were all synchronised with this particular year. They were asked to consciously re-enact their psychological state from twenty-two years ago. Amazingly, compared to a control group, the men emerged after five days in this place, looking younger, standing taller, and with increased grip strength, physical flexibility and performance on memory and problem solving tasks. Incredibly, even their eye sight had improved.

So, whilst there is no escape from the fact that ageing is a steady decline in our health and vitality, the rate at which we travel along this route may well be influenced by our mind-set. In some important respects, we really are as old as we feel. On a practical level, continuing to keep as active as we can, to build physical fitness and strength, to stay curious about the world and to continue to keep one’s mind stretched and alert to the positive, are all good ways of strengthening this mind-set.

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