Emotional Health Improves With Age. Part 2

Posted by Lloyd on February 03, 2012
Anti Aging

More Room to Reflect
John Mayer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire and expert in emotional intelligence, said that as people age they gain more mental space to reflect on and understand their emotional lives.

“As you grow older, you gain expert knowledge of your own emotions,” Mayer said. “You become more aware of what you feel and how to express it.”

Researchers in the study attribute this emotional poignancy not only to life experience, but also to what Carstensen calls the human ability to monitor time subconsciously.

“Older people know they don’t have the time ahead of them they once had,” she said, “so they prefer to find emotional significance that gives them immediate satisfaction in their day-to-day lives. They literally learn to live for the moment.”

Whether it’s pleasure or joy, sadness or pain, the knowledge that an experience will soon end changes the emotional experience itself, according to the psychologists’ report.

Life goals change with age, too. While young people pursue things that promise future benefit, such as learning new trades, meeting new people and moving to new cities, seniors tend to seek emotional relevance in the established facets of their lives. And surprisingly, achieving happiness is not their chief goal.

“Age does not entail the relentless pursuit of happiness, but rather the satisfaction of emotionally meaningful goals,” the report said. And this pursuit “entails far more than simply feeling good. Finding meaning in relationships, even conflicting ones, emerges as a central task in later life.”

Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, older people are less likely to think about death, Carstensen says.

“At some point you accept, both consciously and subconsciously, that you are not going to live forever,” she said. “In fact, many older people stop thinking about death altogether. Instead they choose to find new meaning in their lives.”

Sage or Crank?
But if emotional maturity sets in with age, why are seniors as often perceived as compassionate sages as they are cantankerous grouches?

“Just because they have a greater sensitivity to their emotions, doesn’t mean older people always choose to embrace positive feelings,” Mayer said. “There’s no question some people fall off the track and become fixed in a negative outlook.”

Carstensen says the two perceived models of old age — the sage and the crank –mostly stem from young adults’ limited exposure to older generations.

“Most people base their ideas of seniors on their grandparents,” she said. “If your grandparents were wise and reflective, that will likely be your model of all older people. Of course, the opposite is also true.”

Carstensen says her study will continue over the next several years. She and her team plan to reassemble the same 184 people for a second experiment. She hopes to show more evidence of the link between emotional maturity and age, as the same participants record their emotions again over the course of a week.

In the end, regardless of age, experts agree that emotional development is critical to contentment in life. While most people rely on achieving career or other “knowledge”-based goals for happiness, it’s human relationships and “emotion”-based goals that have the longest-lasting effects.

According to Carstensen, “successful regulation of emotion is central to functioning in interpersonal relationships, coping with life’s hardships, and optimizing mental health.”

So, take comfort: Whether you’re an emotional seedling or giant redwood, your emotions will only grow clearer, deeper and better with age.

Below are the 19 emotions monitored in the study: fear, irritation, boredom, disgust, accomplishment, joy, pride, sadness, embarrassment, guilt, anger, happiness, frustration, boredom, contentment, amusement, anxiety, shame, interest, excitement.

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