What’s Happiness got to do with it?
‘Happiness? What planet have you been on these last six months?’ I hear the more restrained among you say.
I agree the words that most readily spring to mind are probably – anxiety, insecurity, inequality, isolation, illness, loss, uncertainty, stress…… no more or it will be ‘Wine & Chocolate Time’ again – my personal words associated with Covid!
Life from my mid-sixties had probably been my happiest years so far. Then along came Coronavirus and our days were transformed, taking on a surreal, ‘Groundhog Day’ quality, especially for the more vulnerable. I expected to suffer hugely. No one has ever called me a home bird or Domestic Goddess.
What proved unexpected and curious is that I’ve remained pretty content, possibly even happy. (Or maybe I’ve just become institutionalised in our ‘bubble’?)
And this is even more surprising given the older you are the higher your risk of dying if you catch Covid19, particularly if you have other health issues. So, it would be reasonable to assume that I, at 69 an older person with underlying health conditions, would be (justifiably) depressed and anxious. I put my generally positive mood down to my optimistic outlook on life.
But what’s even more surprising, is that I’m not alone. Ongoing research from the Mental Health Foundation has shown that ‘since mid-March people aged 55 and over, and particularly people age 70 and over, have been less likely to report stress as a result of the pandemic…[and] there were reduced levels of anxiety amongst this age group’. It is young adults that have consistently reported feeling the worst and coping least well.
So, although happiness in the time of Covid is probably going too far, we older folk seem to have remained reasonably sanguine during this pandemic – at least until now.
The secret? Get old!
I don’t know all the reasons for this greater equanimity but I do know research has discovered a ‘U Curve of Happiness’. Childhood is a time of happiness, but life satisfaction then starts to decrease (down to the bottom of the U) and only begins climbing up the other side from around age 50. Surprisingly it then keeps on rising until your 80s and beyond. I’m now travelling up the right-hand curve of the ‘U’.
Sorry if this comes as unwelcome news to those of you in your 40s, or even worse your 30s, but just think of all the decades you have to look forward to when you reach 50+!
It would be totally understandable if the ‘U’ had, in these ‘unprecedented times’, already morphed into an ‘L’! But I believe possible explanations for the U curve, plus new factors, have resulted in we ‘Perennials’ maintaining our more positive mood, although I suspect it’s not going to be the same shaped ‘U’ as pre-Covid. I will say a bit more about this, and my personal experience of lockdown, in Part 2 in a couple of weeks time. Do hope you’ll take a look.
The eight steps can help us now
Interestingly, the far reaching effects of this pandemic (whether you get ill or not) have highlighted the value of the eight steps in ‘How To Age Joyfully’ to help us live well and keep our minds and bodies in reasonable shape.
- staying positive
- eating healthily (we’ve recently seen all too clearly the dangers of obesity)
- doing physical activity
- learning new things
- being connected
- giving to others and ourselves
- being grateful
- finding a purpose and having goals.
We all share a natural anxiety about our personal and collective future. But I’m hoping to ‘hang in there’, follow my eight steps as best I can, and try to make the most of this challenging time.
After all, we are the lucky ones. Despite all the hardships we are still here and hopefully this world will emerge from this pandemic more compassionate, caring and equitable, if we all play our part. Did I mention I’m an optimist?
Well, as Sir Winston Churchill wisely said ‘I’m an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else’.
I hope you too can find some joy in these testing times. It is out there.
To be continued…
Stay safe; stay strong; stay smiling!