Categorized | Sondra's Musings

How come we aren’t as happy as our elders?


A new Gallup-Healthways index confirms there is such a thing as a mid-life crisis, but don’t worry because once we turn 65, it’s all laughter and contentment.

The Index is an average of six sub-indices: Life Evaluation, Physical Health, Emotional Health, Healthy Behavior, Work Environment and Basic Access.

The information, gathered from more than 1 million surveys since 2008, shows that even while falling a bit behind when it comes to health issues, older people are less likely to be sad or depressed than any other age group. In fact, although the difference is small, they’re actually somewhat happier.

The conclusions show that Americans over 65 scored 69 (out of 100), beating out every age group. Those ages 45-64 scored 65, putting them at the bottom end of the wellbeing spectrum. “Today’s older Americans show remarkable resilience as they age and navigate longevity’s challenges,” said Joseph Coughlin, PhD, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab in a statement. “For tomorrow’s older adults to do as well, if not better, we need to take a lifespan approach to address multiple dimensions of wellbeing, from managing physical problems such as obesity, to instilling lifelong behaviors that will support a future generation of Americans that could begin approaching a new normal of 100 years of life.”

Surprisingly, there is a steady increase in healthy behaviors as we age. Work environment satisfaction and basic access to necessities peak with those over 65.

The Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index, which provides an in-depth, real-time view of Americans’ wellbeing, is actually designed to provide governments, communities, employers and health plans insight into the health of their populations.

As an example, a daily index as of May reports the average amount of happiness and enjoyment all respondents experienced without a lot of stress or worry was typically in the 40 percent range on weekdays and the high-50 percent range on weekends.

Massachusetts ranks 11 (with a 51.4 percent: the national overall score was 66.5) on the wellness scale among 50 states.

A state of wellbeing is equated with better health, which translates into lower health care costs. “Improve wellbeing, and productivity goes up and health care costs come down,” said Ben Leedle, president and CEO of Healthways upon the release of the research.

The question is how do we achieve a state of wellness? If you ask the folks at Healthways, it’s such things as smiling, laughter, access to learning, eating well and getting plenty of exercise. And, naturally, not smoking. While the over 65 set is practicing these behaviors, middle age folks are smoking, have higher levels of chronic disease and obesity and suffer from depression.

Perhaps we middle-agers have the deck stacked against us — financial woes from the weak economy have families struggling to save for retirement, pay college tuitions and make mortgage payments. For many, there’s the added responsibility of caring for a sick parent. Time management at this stage of life is very challenging.

These constraints leave little inclination to fulfill the wellness quotient — to eat better, exercise or find moments to relax or engage in leisure activities.

Complicating the facing of and dealing with these many issues is the inevitable realization of personal mortality: At least half our life is spent. Am I where I want to be? Am I doing what I want to do? Is my life what I dreamed it would be in my youth?

Even with good intensions, just the quest to eat better or find time to exercise may add to the stress. And when we look for happiness through material things, we only end up frustrated that we still feel unfulfilled.

No wonder the word commonly associated with midlife is “crisis,” not “wellbeing.”

“Sometimes in the West we make happiness much more complicated than it is,” Natasha Mitchell, of ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind, told a reporter from “Shouldn’t it be straightforward that if we reach out to other people, which is part of our biological imperative, that we’ll feel good?”

Mitchell was a presenter at the Happiness and its Causes conference in Brisbane, Australia, where many of the speakers agreed that scientifically proven ways to boost wellbeing comes down to common sense: being kind, working on relationships, exercising and eating healthier food, according to an article in

So, the question is, how do we acquire a sense of wellbeing? An article in the Cleveland Banner may hold some answers:

•Achieve self-acceptance: Be realistic about yourself, accepting that you aren’t perfect. Don’t look for approval from others.

•Maintain positive relations with others: Surround yourself with good friends who allow you to be yourself, and with whom you can share your thoughts and concerns.

•Demand personal freedom: As I have learned, time is becoming more precious so I don’t want to waste so much time doing things I don’t enjoy.

•Be confident: Life’s experiences should give a sense of confidence that you can successfully solve most of the problems that come up.

•Adjust your purpose: In middle age, we should free ourselves of those goals that once defined us: What we did for a living, how much money we made or where we went to college. It’s more important to find purpose through meaningful relationships.

•And, lastly, my favorite: Keep growing: As my dear friend Norma used to say, we should learn something new every day. She lived that motto until the end of her life. Well into her 80s, she took courses in public policy and computer science, went to the theater, visited museums and talked psychology with friends. There isn’t an expiration date when it comes to growing mentally, emotionally and spiritually. A lesson the oldest members of our society are teaching us every day.

Sondra Shapiro is the publisher of Fifty Plus Life. She can be reached at Read more at Follow her at


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