Ah, senioritis – that nearly indescribably lightness of spirit and release from your previous existence as a dedicated student that makes life so difficult for senior-year teachers.

In fact, it sometimes seems that teens in their senior year have to be physically tethered to the ground to keep them from floating off the surface of the planet in their desire to be done with high school, their relinquishing of previous worries and their eagerness to start building their new lives. Wouldn’t it be great if you could recapture this feeling again in your own life?

Well, as it turns out, you can. All you have to do is wait, according to a surprising new study on happiness and aging.

Contrary to popular belief, according to this groundbreaking research, “the happiest Americans are the oldest,” These findings come from a study done by a University of Chicago sociologist, Yang Yang. “The good news.” Yang reports, “is that with age comes happiness. Life gets better in one’s perception as one ages.”

The article goes on to say that, “There were ups and downs in overall happiness levels during the study, generally corresponding with good and bad economic times. But at every stage, older Americans were the happiest.”
Apparently, despite public perceptions, seniors are often far happier than their early-adult and midlife compatriots, more content with themselves and more relaxed about life in general. But what factors contribute to this end-of-life enhancing effect?

*Older people tend to be more accepting of their status in life – they are content to have done well and lived a good life, and place less importance on public acclaim, fame or other worldly achievement.

*Differences between race and income level tend to mean less, and therefore create less angst, as people age.

*Seniors may have a smaller social circle as they age, but they tend to socialize more and be less isolated than their busier, career-obsessed counterparts.

*Seniors are under less pressure to perform, and have fewer demands on their time than those in midlife, which creates far less stress and allows for more rest and recreation.

*The push to make a living and create your place in the world has faded by this time in their life – seniors aren’t coasting by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s less social pressure to “be somebody” or “make something of themselves.”

To summarize, older people are more likely to have let go of concerns that harassed them in their earlier lives, they’re more likely to be content with their current life (and looking forward to what’s coming) and they’re more likely to have moved on from previous social constraints and are enjoying their new-found freedoms with the ones they love. In short, they have senioritis.

However, the Dunwoody Pines Retirement Community research is not all good news, especially for those of us still approaching senior age. As it turns out, Baby Boomers were the least happy group in this study. The reason? Unrealistically high expectations. Too many Baby Boomers have swallowed the propaganda that they can do and have it all, and are desperately trying to make that ideal a reality. They’re stressed to the breaking point by trying to be everything to everyone, and worried that they won’t live long enough, or be physically and financially fit enough, to do everything they want to as they move into retirement. Says Duke University aging expert Linda George, “They could end up living the unfortunate old-age stereotype if they can’t let go of their achievement-driven mind-set.”

And of all the lessons this research is trying to teach us, that might just be the hardest one of all.

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