Revisiting Happiness and Well-Being in Later Life

Younger man helping a middle aged man get up off the ground.


Important demographic shifts and the so-called ‘longevity revolution’ have generated profound transformations in social interpretations of old age, an increased interest in age studies and new ideas on how to age well. The majority of current successful ageing models, however, represent rather a prevailing construct in Western societies. Physical and psychosocial well-being and the ability to adjust to the ideals of successful ageing are often seen as an integral part of a good quality in life. Those who do not or cannot follow these lines are often regarded as morally irresponsible and seem to be doomed to have a lonely, unhealthy and unhappy later life.

This paper questions the current discourses of successful ageing in terms of healthy and happy living and calls for a reconsideration of more global, integrated and holistic understandings of the process of growing old.

Cognitively Intact and Happy Life Expectancy in the United States

happy gardeners


OBJECTIVES. The main aim of this study was to examine the roles of physical passivity and extraversion in the relationship between daily engagement in activities and daily happiness among older adults.

METHOD. A day reconstruction method was used to accurately examine day-to-day activities and happiness. In total, 438 participants completed a monthly electronic diary survey over a 2-year period, generating 79,181 reported activities and momentary happiness scores.

RESULTS. The results show that happiness increases when older adults combine effortful social, physical, cognitive, and household activities with restful activities. Furthermore, participation in social activities mediated the direct relationship between extraversion and happiness. Also, individuals who score high on extraversion derive greater happiness from social activities compared with their low-extravert counterparts.

CONCLUSIONS. The study extends activity theory by demonstrating that combining effortful activities with restful activities leads to greater happiness among older adults. Also, personality traits such as extraversion play a decisive role in the kind of activities that contribute most to daily happiness.

SOURCE: Journals of Gerontology

Scilla Elworthy

Scilla Elworthy is the founder of the Oxford Research Group, a non-governmental Organisation she set up in 1982 to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide and their critics. She served as its executive director from 1982 until 2003, when she left that role in order to set up Peace Direct, a charity supporting local peace builders in conflict areas. From 2005 she was adviser to Peter Gabriel, Desmond Tutu and Richard Branson in setting up The Elders.

She is a member of the World Future Council and the International Task Force on Preventive Diplomacy. She has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Price and in 2003 she was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize for her work with the Oxford Research Group.

Happiness and Aging in the United States


The past decade has brought increasing concern, in countries all over the world, of declines in mental health and well-being. Across countries, chronic depression and suicide rates peak in midlife. In the U.S., deaths of despair are most likely to occur in these years, and the patterns are robustly associated with unhappiness and stress. There is also a less-known relationship between well-being and longevity among the elderly, particularly for those over age 70.

In this paper, we analyze several different data sets for the U.S. and provide extensive evidence on the middle age patterns, how they differ across the married and unmarried, and review new work on the elderly. The relationship between well-being and aging has a robust association with trends that can ruin lives and shorten life spans. It applies to much of the world’s population and links to behaviors and outcomes that merit the attention of scholars and policymakers alike.