Cheer up: you'll feel better in your 60s

Study finds improvement in wellbeing as we age


Feeling gloomy, pessimistic and stressed? Hang on in there - things will improve. Research has shown that most people become happier during their 60s, despite the fact that the majority develop chronic illnesses during this time.

The data comes from the National Survey for Health and Development (NSHD), carried out by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and University College London.

They have been tracking a group of more than 3,000 men and women, all of whom turn 70 this month, since their birth in 1946.

The members were asked to rate 14 aspects of their mental wellbeing, including how cheerful, confident, optimistic, useful and relaxed they felt, when aged between 60 and 64.

And when they were asked the same questions at age 69, there was an average improvement in all 14 areas - despite most study members reporting at least one common chronic disease such as arthritis or cancer.

"What we've found is that, on average, levels of wellbeing increased during people's sixties," says Dr Mai Stafford, programme leader at the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing'

"We found that one in five experienced a substantial increase in wellbeing in later life, although we also found a smaller group who experienced a substantial decline."

The findings echo the conclusions of a report earlier this month from the Office for National Statistics, which found that people are, on average, at their most miserable between the ages of 45 and 59 and at their happiest between 65 and 79.

But the advantage of the MRC study is that it looks at the same people over a period of time, meaning it can be possible to identify the factors that lead up to the findings.

It's already had a major effect on healthcare, education and social policy, revealing information about what factors keep us healthy and strong as we age, and what can contribute to the risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia and type 2 diabetes.

Accordingly, the team now plans to examine the data in more depth to try and find the factors behind the change in mood.

"The benefit of using a cohort study like NSHD is that we can look at how individuals change over time," says Stafford. "We hope this will allow us to pinpoint which common experiences may be linked to an improvement in wellbeing in later life."

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