Happier with Age

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Do people’s moods change over time? A 2008 Gallup phone survey of 340,000 Americans sought to measure both their sense of global well-being as well as their general mood.

Do people’s moods change over time? A 2008 Gallup phone survey of 340,000 Americans sought to measure both their sense of global well-being as well as their general mood (degree of happiness, stress, anger, or worry), and see whether either evolves. The results of this study recently were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the findings may interest you.

Well-being and happiness follow a U-shaped pattern across age groups. Generally we begin our adult lives (at 18-21 years of age) with a strong sense of well-being, which declines quickly in the early twenties as a result of stress, worry, or anger. The emotional low point (highest number of stressors, least happiness) occurs in a person’s 50's. The study reports that "as people age, they are less troubled by stress and anger, and although worry persists, without increasing, until middle age, it too fades after the age of 50 years." In later years, the curve trends back upward. While both genders have remarkably similar trends, women in all age brackets report experiencing more anger, worry, and sadness than men do. Sadness tends to stay constant across the lifespan.

This information is radically counter-cultural, and yet also quite hopeful. Our culture seems to reward youth and beauty, suggesting that by 40, the best part of our lives is over. Yet this research suggests that individuals become more resilient with age. In spite of increasing physical challenges, we can anticipate achieving a wisdom that leads to deeper life satisfaction.

What might all of this mean for clergy health? First, perhaps it's comforting to know how normal it is for young-to-middle aged people to react strongly to worry, stress, and anger. Also, recognizing that the generation that is currently sandwiched between child-rearing and eldercare is at their life's low point may help pastors better understand their stressed congregational contemporaries as well as themselves. It also explains why retired pastors are healthier than working pastors. 

Whatever you make of these findings, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. And it's not from an oncoming train.

Yours in health,

Robin Swift
Health Programs Director
Clergy Health Initiative

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