Friday, April 01, 2011


Can Things Really Get Better as we Grow Older?

The lady on the left is none other than Christine Janes, nee Truman, who was a major sports star when I was a slim and reasonably athletic 20-30 year old. In 1959 she won the French championship, was runner up in the US in the same year and at Wimbledon in 1961. She is now 70, So what? Well, according to a behavioural psychologist she is the 'happiest person in the UK. Shortly we'll all be tested by a similar set of government sponsored questions to gauge how delighted we are with life... or not. So the state of the this former sports star's inner psyche is kind of significant.

It also chimes in with the article in the ST last Sunday on biologist Professor Lewis Wolpert's book claiming that that older people tend to be happier than younger ones. This is counter intuitive to someone like me who looks back on earlier years with nostalgic affection and wishes he could play cricket and table tennis as I once did and sprint around a playing field like a young puppy. But such memories are misleading it would seem. A US National Academy of Sciences' survey of 341,000 people begs to differ. This survey shows that while teenagers and early twenty types are reasonably happy, their level of happiness plunges until early middle age.

However, from mid to late forties onwards happiness levels begin to improve and don't stop improving until the remarkable age of 85. Says Wolpert:

'From their mid forties onwards, people tend to become ever more cheerful and optimistic, perhaps reaching a maximum in their late seventies or eighties.'

Mind you, there are important conditions required. Older people have to be healthy, financially comfortable and have good relationships. Christine Janes clearly meets all three requirements but the down side is that quite a lot of others in our tottering financial conditions might not. Yet having just had another birthday, and, as one tends to when over 40, contemplated my mortality, I find it delightfully reassuring that, given the maintenance of health and finance things can only get better. Though, Professor John Bond of Newcastle University surely expresses the essential truth of growing old:

'In the34 end it's your friends and family that count most.'

"The eminent biologist and octogenarian Lewis Wolpert" was on Radio Three's Night Waves on 28/3 talking about "the science and social significance of ageing".

Well worth a listen (as Night Waves often is) and available on the iPlayer until Monday...
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