Studies Reveal People Become More Autonomous, Happier with Age

Aug 22, 2006

Realities associated with aging are numerous, and often negative. However, according to a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher, the aging process isn't all bad because it helps most individuals become more autonomous and self determined, achieving a higher level of personal satisfaction.

Kennon Sheldon, professor of psychological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science, has co-authored three papers examining autonomy and aging. His research conducted during a five-year period reveals that compared to youth, older people are more able to pursue goals they enjoy and believe in, helping them to become happier with their lives. Such personal satisfaction, according to Sheldon, is attainable through aging and offsets the mental and physical changes that occur with time.

"It's not that we're downplaying the physical and cognitive declines," Sheldon said. "We're saying, 'Getting older is not all bad news.' It's not necessarily a downer. In at least one way, we get better as we get older, by learning to resist social pressures. Thus, we don't waste energy doing things we don't believe in. We may not have the same physical abilities or mental flexibility, but we learn to do things for the right reasons. We become more mature and make better decisions."

Sheldon's most recent study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, compares well-being and goal motivations of MU students and their parents. The average age of adults participating in the study was 50. The average student age was 20. Both groups listed their life goals and rated their reasons for selecting them. They also rated their current well-being. The results were calculated and older participates were happier, achieving greater life satisfaction, because they pursued more autonomous goals, Sheldon said.

"They are more satisfied with their lives and have fewer negative moods than young people," said Sheldon, a proponent of positive psychology, which focuses on human fulfillment and happiness. "Younger people feel pressured or controlled and that takes a toll on their happiness."

Sheldon's 2001 study, published in Development Psychology, examined age and the achievement of personal goals of Columbia, Mo. youth and adults between the ages of 19 and 85. A '05 study focused on the greater willingness of older adults to adhere to social duties, such as paying taxes, tipping for service and voting. It appeared in European Journal of Personality.

"Older people don't complain about these duties. They do it with less resistance," Sheldon said. "They realize the importance, even though it's not fun."

Source: University of Missouri

Explore further: Oral contraceptive equal to antibiotics for acne care

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Girls in Colombian town struck by mystery illness

6 minutes ago

A mystery illness has overwhelmed a small town in northern Colombia as scores of teenage girls have been hospitalized with symptoms that parents fear could be an adverse reaction to a popular vaccine against cervical cancer.

Cold cash just keeps washing in from ALS challenge

16 minutes ago

In the couple of hours it took an official from the ALS Association to return a reporter's call for comment, the group's ubiquitous "ice bucket challenge" had brought in a few million more dollars.

Uruguay begins registering marijuana growers

36 minutes ago

Just a handful of people had registered by midday Wednesday to be private growers of marijuana in Uruguay, the first country to fully legalize the production, sale and distribution of the drug.

Better classification to improve treatments for breast cancer

5 hours ago

Breast cancer can be classified into ten different subtypes, and scientists have developed a tool to identify which is which. The research, published in the journal Genome Biology, could improve treatments and targeting of tre ...

Oral contraceptive equal to antibiotics for acne care

7 hours ago

(HealthDay)—At six months, oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) are comparable to systemic antibiotics for acne management, according to a review published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Ac ...

User comments : 0