I thought that as I grew older, I needed less to be more happy and content. I had come to believe like Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that less is more: less decoration properly deployed , has more impact than a lot of it. The same way a makeup artist believes that light make up makes the individual features more prominent. I have been reading widely about happiness and life satisfaction and to my shock and amazement,the psychologists are telling me that I am wrong: what makes one happy and content does not vary much with age but some of the contributing factors to life satisfaction may change with age.
Kahlil Gibran once said: “To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction , is to live twice.”
According to the psychologists, happiness is a state of living an enjoyable, meaningful , rewarding and exciting life. It is born out of a deep satisfaction with one’s relationships with others, surroundings, accomplishments and oneself.
Some psychologists like Martin Seligman of USA think that happiness has 3 distinct elements:
- The pleasant life- having fun, joy and excitement in life. Having as many as positive emotions as you can as you go through your day- to- day activities.
- The good life – achieved by identifying your unique skills and abilities and applying them to enhance your life and others. You cannot engage fully with life until you find out who you are- your strengths and flaws. You then apply this knowledge to find the great story of your life.Secure in this knowledge you are less likely to be confused by the inessentials or be pulled down or manipulated by others.
- The meaningful life- involves a deep sense of fulfillment that comes from using your talents to make a difference in the world around you.Living your genuine story makes you feel deeply satisfied and gives meaning to your life. No life no matter how successful and exciting it might be, will make you happy , if it is not really your life. No life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own.
The happiest people tend to pursue a full life encompassing these 3 elements.
It should be noted that each of our individual journeys is intimately interwoven with the journeys of family members, friends and co-workers. The steps I take toward becoming truly myself affect them in the same way the steps they take affect me.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Extensive research done over the years has shown that age is related to happiness but happiness is not related to gender. Life satisfaction tends to increase as people get older.
A growing child needs to feel safe and secure in a home, loved and valued by the parents. He/she needs to be surrounded by happy loving parents and people. As emotions are contagious, children who are given much love and care in their childhood learn to be kind to themselves and then go out to love other people and animals.They grow up very optimistic ; resilient and can face life’s bigger challenges better.
The teenagers in any given population, are going through a period of rapid changes and transformation towards becoming adults. During this transitional period, the part of the brain that controls emotions and motivation and directs behavior to meet the challenges of their environment or weigh risks and rewards is not yet fully developed. Therefore, the teenagers cannot direct and control their behavior and they feel happy if they are able to fit in with their peers and be accepted by them. Any rejection by their peers can push a teenager into terrible misery or even mental illness. Available scientific reports show that 50% of all mental illnesses in the USA begin by the age of 14 and 75% occur by mid 20s. Teenagers need affirmation , approval and acknowledgement. They need to feel loved and valued. If a child is good at something, he/she needs appreciation. This demands that parents, teachers should assist children to develop positive emotions.
The psychologists who have studied positive psychology- the study of happiness and well being have identified a number of factors that consistently relate to happiness and fulfillment in young adults and and older adults. They include:
- Positive affect- focusing on your individual positive traits: your strengths and virtues.
Optimism- expecting the best outcome in any situation. This positive frame of mind helps you see new opportunities, learn from different situations and keep moving forward.
- Flow- A mental state of well being achieved by being involved in an activity to the point where you feel you lose yourself in the activity, effortlessly maintain concentration and focus and feel in complete control of your action and time seems to pass more quickly than usual.
No one is completely happy all the time, encouraging one to experience these three contributes to life satisfaction.
For the older adults,the psychologists have identified six main factors related to happiness and contentment:
- Strong healthy relationships with loved ones- you learn relationship skills that help you make responsible decision making.
- Fulfillment from work- It pushes you to want to be more and do much more.
- Satisfaction with physical health- exercises optimises your brain’s ability to learn. It helps you regulate your emotions.
- Happiness with your romantic life
- Content with your personal growth
- 6. Secure in spirituality or religion
Greater life satisfaction makes us feel happier and helps us to enjoy life more. All in all, it has a positive impact on our health and well-being.
In the elderly, the need for life satisfaction remains relatively high though the illnesses associated with old age; aches and pains may reduce one’s engagement in life. Older adults have weathered many storms of life and tend not to place more value on things and status like the young people. Instead, they place more value on family relationships and other genuine relationships which give them long-term fulfillment in their lives. It has been observed that happy people tend to have more friends, more high -quality social relationships and strong social support networks than less happy people.
The illusion that I needed less to be happy and content developed after my sixtieth birthday. I had observed that I derived more joy and fulfillment by just spending time with family and genuine , old friends. I also observed that I could get a natural high by simply immersing myself into creative writing. I could effortlessly maintain my concentration and focus, felt in control of the action and time seemed to be passing quickly. It is a pleasant experience which requires me to use my skills, knowledge and passion. At that moment in time, I feel happy and fulfilled.
Digging deeper into the psychology of happiness and contentment has helped me understand that the main factors contributing to my happiness and contentment have more or less remained the same but it is the value that I attach to each of those factors that have changed as I grew older!
I have to admit that it has indeed been a rude awakening! It has helped me to appreciate more that learning is a lifelong process. The more I learn the more I get to understand myself , the people around me and my environment. The wisdom of old age is pushing me to search for the reality behind appearances and is opening me to the deeper truth about life.
What activity is giving you the flow experience at this moment in time? How has this experience changed over the years?