LONDON – I don’t know about you, but I think most of us could use some good news right about now. As this whole government shut down thing threatens to drag on into yet another week – with debt ceilings looming – I’m looking anywhere and everywhere to have a positive outlook on life. So I’ve been reassured by a spate of recent research suggesting that whatever our politicians can or cannot achieve when locked in a room together, the rest of us can at least know that aging doesn’t necessarily need to further our sense of despair. To the contrary, some things really do get better.
To wit, here are five things to look forward to as you age:
1. Productivity peaks later in life. Worried that as you get older, you won’t be as sharp as the new kid on the block in the cubicle next to you? Fear no more. Recent research out of Finland suggests that most workers maintain their mental and social work skills throughout their lives. Provided that you stay healthy, there’s no reason that you can’t keep up with the demands of work well into later life. And it gets better. In America, anyway, you’re likely to earn more as you age. And that’s because – as a recent Brookings study shows – today’s older workers are much better educated than older workers in the past. Indeed, older Americans who stay attached to the labor force after 62 are much more likely to have received schooling after high school than the workers who retire at younger ages. And we all know that there are returns to education. So don’t worry that you may not know what Pinterest is. You’ve got plenty on those youngins.
2. Happiness peaks later in life. Of course, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (Ditto Jane.) So it’s equally reassuring to learn – courtesy of the Financial Times‘ Tim Harford – that we’ll actually have more fun as we get older as well. Economists who study “subjective well being” have long been aware of a U-shaped pattern as people pass through different ages. What this essentially means is that we are, on average, happier in our teens and in early adulthood, and as pensioners, than we are in middle age. Recent research out of Germany posits one explanation for this U-shaped curve and it has everything to do with…um…great expectations (to coin a phrase). Turns out, younger people vastly inflate their expectations of what life will deliver five years on, such that by the time you’re (cough) my age, you’re basically depressed by all that you haven’t achieved. By the time you get old, however, you start to be pleasantly surprised by what you *have* accomplished, rather than by what you’ve failed to do. This finding is consistent with other recent studies in the U.S. which suggest that as we age, how we define happiness changes, from a notion that is entirely bound up in achieving more (so-called “promotion-mindedness” to one that’s more about valuing what we already have.) While I’ll still fess’ up to wanting to write that best-selling novel, it’s reassuring to know that one day, the draft sitting within my desk drawer will give me a certain solace.
3. You’ll get along better with your partner. Here’s one piece of research I was delighted to hear about: older couples fight better. Yes, it’s true. When older couples argue, they’re more likely to handle the conflict by changing the subject. That might sound like a bad thing – and might well be, in younger couples who need to confront difference. But to the extent that older couples can avoid so-called “toxic” areas, it can actually be productive to steer the conversation to a more neutral subject. Or maybe it’s just that they learn, over time, to selectively tune out their partner’s voices. (“What’s that, honey? Did you say something about the dishes?”) Either way, I’m personally delighted to know that as we age together, my husband and I leave behind our own perennial ziplock conflict.
4. Your sex life doesn’t necessarily end. And while you’re avoiding the dishes, you can also be getting it on. The evidence suggests that it’s the state of your health – not your age – that is the greatest determinant of a good sex life. Provided you’re healthy, there’s no reason you can’t have an active sex life in middle and later life, according to an expert in sexual medicine from the University of Chicago. Indeed, it might even improve. What’s not to love?
5. Drinking is good for you. Finally, drinking alcohol in later life also improves memory. Go figure. And wait! It gets better! Hangovers also improve. In a study of 50,000 adults, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the Danes found that both men and women report markedly fewer hangover symptoms as they get older.
What’s the upshot here? Good things come to those who wait. All you need to do is to stay healthy. Or, as my favorite new website title puts it, 50 is the New 50. Yup, it sure is …
Delia Lloyd is an American journalist living in London. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. She was the London correspondent for Politics Daily and blogs about adulthood at RealDelia.