By Jennifer Edwards, CFP®, CSLP®
I have yet to meet someone who is excited about getting old, but it turns out there are ways to influence how happy you are in later life. Certain decisions made while we are young make it more likely that we will be happier in old age.
This study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry followed more than 500 young adults for 60 years to learn about aging and what leads to happiness later in life. They found 7 factors that affect old age happiness.
1. No Smoking
Refraining from or quitting smoking predicted greater happiness later in life. No surprises here. Most of us know that nicotine and tobacco are bad for our health, but quitting smoking is also great for your financial bottom line. Smoking costs the average person $1.4 million over their lifetime. This cost varies by where you live in the country, with Alaska being the most expensive state in which to be a smoker and Louisiana being the cheapest, but anyway you slice it, a lifetime of smoking is very expensive. Turns out it also takes more than it gives in terms of lifetime happiness points.
2. Limited Alcohol Use
Considering how destructive alcoholism is to relationships and personal health, we would expect to find that avoiding alcohol abuse leads to greater happiness in our later years. Most of us have been personally affected by someone with an alcohol problem and all its attendant regrets. Consider doing yourself and your retirement fund a favor in Dry January by putting the saved money in your Roth IRA. You might even learn life is better with a little less drink.
3. Healthy Body Weight
I know, I know- not weight, again! This one shouldn’t be a shocker. But most of the information out there about weight loss isn’t customized to you, your body type, hormonal package, and genetic makeup, so don’t believe everything you read. Work with your healthcare professional and maybe a personal fitness coach to come up with a plan specifically designed for you.
Are we seeing a pattern here? Taking care of our bodies while we are young does pay dividends when we’re old. Movement stimulates positive hormones and helps with mobility. We are also more likely to stave off chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia when we are active.
5. Develop Coping Mechanisms
Aging is stressful. There are a lot of negative emotions that surface as friends and family pass away, our health deteriorates, we lose independence, and as we come face to face with our own mortality. Happier are the elderly who have a reservoir of healthy coping mechanisms. Mindfulness, spending time in nature and creatively, and journaling are all habits that we can draw on when life gets hard. Check out our blog on inexpensive hobbies for cheap ways to relax and rejuvenate.
6. Lifetime Learning
When we learn, we keep our brain cells active and alive. Make learning a part of your everyday life. There are plenty of places to get quality, free (or close to free) education like Coursera, EdX, Khan Academy, TED, MOOC, Udemy, and Alison. Expand your mind without putting a single dent in your pocketbook by heading over to your local library.
Committed partnerships have been shown time and again to lead to increased happiness in later life. Want to know the secret to success in marriage? Look into the work of John and Julie Gottman, pioneers in research-based relationship success. Added bonus: cohabitation is much cheaper than solitary living.
So give your old self a little love. Make a small change today and reap the benefits for decades to come.