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“something very deep and quite human”: happiness in late life

A large Gallup poll of more than has found that “by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older.” The tone is skeptical: “[Getting old] sounds miserable, but apparently it is not.” The methodology is impeccable: researchers surveyed 340,000 Americans aged 18 to 85. The conclusion is clear: “good news for old people, and for those who are getting old.”  In other words, for everyone.

The Gallup poll joins a growing body of research, including studies conducted at the University of Chicago and the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College, that confirms this  “U-shaped happiness pattern.” Researchers aren’t sure why old age brings happiness. “It could be that there are environmental changes,” said Arthur A. Stone, the lead author of a new study based on the survey, “or it could be psychological changes about the way we view the world, or it could even be biological — for example brain chemistry or endocrine changes.”  It seems universal, though. And perhaps one day the fact itself will no longer surprise.