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Ageing gets sexier, even without the sex

entertainment Updated: Apr 18, 2011 13:47 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Teenagers and singletons may insist that those over the age of 35 may as well be dead, but new research shows that more than winning at cricket, popping prozac or finding salvation at the feet of gurus peddling glee, what makes people truly happy is turning 80!

The findings, published by the American National Academy of Sciences (ANAS) after quizzing 3.41 lakh people on their state of mind, show that people are glummest through their 20s and 30s but begin to cheer up in the mid-forties, steadily accumulating smiles that peak when you touch 80.

Clearly, sex has nothing to do with how happy you are.

Cynics say that living to be 80 years old in a world with life expectancy a tad over 64 years is reason enough to uncork the bubbly. Or that satisfaction from life goes up at 80 simply because you have fewer expectations from it. When holding a conversation without drooling or making it to the bathroom without breaking a hip becomes a challenge, they may argue, pursuit of happiness gets a whole new perspective.

Wrong. The ANAS study shows that the bliss factor shows slow and steady increase from the mid-forties, easily eclipsing the manic-depressive twenties and harassed thirties when everything appears to go wrong even when it’s going right.

In new book, You’re Looking Very Well: The Surprising Nature Of Getting Old, British biologist Dr Lewis Wolpert says most people were averagely elated in their teens and twenties, with the glee index dipping until the mid-forties as they struggle to support a career and family. But with performance anxiety going down with age, they are suddenly left with less stress and more time and money for themselves than ever before, which is one of the major factors propelling the demographic shift in spending on luxury brands worldwide.

Yet this late-onset optimism is not just about spoiling yourself silly or slowing down. Experts say that as people grow older, they become more selective about how they use their time, spending more time on doing things they like while cutting out bits they don’t. A cynic’s take on this would be that older people are selfish, ruthlessly cutting out people and throwing out things that are no more of use to them. That’s not true. Unlike hormone-happy teenagers out to wreck havoc or to be loved to pieces, 80-year-olds have the brains to face up to their limitations before choosing what they want and how to get it.

What makes younger people happy is beauty, even if it is surgically assisted, with data from five large surveys of 25,000 people done between 1971 and 2009 in the US, Canada, Germany and Britain showing that good-looking people are happier than plain Janes and ugly Joes.

The reason beauty tops over everything else for the young is because it’s the quickest route to success and comfort. Several studies have shown better-looking people earn more and have better looking or richer partners. The findings — published by the German-based Institute for the Study of Labour — hold true for both sexes, its impact is more oblique for men. It helps them get a better job, earn more and get a younger, prettier partner.

Irrespective of age, a steady income, health, and family and friends add to happiness, but with age, being independent, active and mentally agile matters as much.

With new research indicating people actually increase their language and decision-making skills with age, getting older has never been so attractive. For now we know that when the brain’s ability to do simple math starts getting fuzzy with age, the language skills to ask for a calculator would still be razor sharp.