Study Reveals Elders Forgive and are Happier

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People become happier as they get older, according to recent research. Happiness significantly rises for the over 50-crowd, and while physical health may decrease as people get older, mental well-being increases, something researchers attribute to the lowered personal and professional expectations older people place on themselves.

Something else that comes with old age: an increased capacity to forgive others. It’s easier for older adults to forgive than it is for younger adults.

A recent study set out to examine the reason behind this positive relationship between age and forgiveness. Researchers hypothesized that the two personality traits of agreeableness and neuroticism (the degree of negativity in a person’s response to life situations) explain age differences in tendencies to forgive.

The study looked at individuals who ranged in age from 19-84 years and found that older adults showed higher levels of agreeableness and lower levels of neuroticism than younger adults.  How does this relate to forgiveness? More agreeable people are more forgiving than less agreeable ones, and more neurotic individuals are less forgiving than less neurotic ones. Consequently, older people are more apt to forgive.

The fact that older individuals show less neuroticism explains their aptitude for forgiveness, and it also may shed some light on why older people are happier. The happiness curve is U-shaped: happiness is highest in youth, decreases and hits its lowest point at around age 45, and then increases again in old age. (This remains true across cultures.) Research has shown that personality plays a large role in happiness; in particular, neuroticism plays the largest role. The more neurotic an individual, the less happiness he or she experiences. Case in point: older people, who are less neurotic and happier.

It looks that like a fine wine, life seems to get better with age. Older people evidence increased well-being and an increased capacity for forgiveness. Yet, that doesn’t mean that young people have to wait a few decades before they can begin fully living their lives. In fact, although the happiness curve hits a low at age 45, research suggests that people may be able to train their brains to be more empathetic, compassionate, and appreciative.

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