A friend pointed me towards this insightful article in the Economist about what I’ve been calling the “U-shaped happiness curve." (In Britspeak, that’s “U-bend.”) It attributes widespread corroboration to “a new branch of economics that seeks a more satisfactory measure than money of human well-being,” and observes that the U-bend shows up consistently and globally across 40 years’ worth of data, even when scientists control for cash, employment status and children.
I’ve been working on the Introduction for the book proposal, and am delighted by the fact that a number of ideas fell nicely into place. One of them was the framing of three central paradoxes of aging well. The first I knew intuitively. The third one was a complete surprise when I encountered it through my reading; then (duh!) I realized that it mirrored my own experience. The second one I only figured out a few weeks ago, while trying to synthesize research findings.
You don’t have to be a shrink to figure out that one of the reasons I tackled this project was to face my own fears about aging and death. And guess what? It’s working.
After arthritis forced her to give up embroidery in her 70’s, the renowned American folk artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses (aka “Grandma Moses”) took up painting. She lived to be 101. Coincidence? Not if Gene Cohen, the eminent evangelist of good news about the aging brain, was right.
In a recent talk, Cohen described neuroscience findings that show unforeseen psychological development late in the life cycle. As we turn 80, frontal lobe changes improve the ability to deal with negative emotions. Cohen likes these empowering changes to “friendly metaphorical inner voices saying, ‘If not now, when? What can they do to me?’ This gives people comfort, confidence, and courage,” the gerontologist attests. In the audio clip below Marcia Muth describes how the lessening of anxiety has made her 80s even more enjoyable than her 70s.