Throughout the pandemic, older adults have been often described as the most vulnerable members of our communities and most at risk for serious illness from COVID-19. But as people are vaccinated and life starts looking and feeling more normal, surveys over the past year have found that older adults have weathered the pandemic with greater emotional well-being than their younger counterparts.
According to a recent New York Times Health article, adults over the age of 50 scored consistently higher when reporting daily positive emotions than younger people. Even when factoring for education or income levels, older people appear to experience more positive emotions and fewer negative feelings each day.
Researchers wondered if older adults seem happier because they have cultivated better coping skills to manage stress, anxiety, or worry, or if they have honed their skills in avoiding situations that lead to negative emotions. The global pandemic provided an ideal circumstance to test which theory held more true – COVID-19 posed a significant risk for older adults that they couldn’t avoid confronting. Regardless of age, the coronavirus has been a universal source of stress.
A recent study recruited 1,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 76 that represented the American population. Study participants answered survey questions about their emotional state over the past week. The results found that older adults did not experience a dwindling sense of happiness although they were unable to use avoidance tactics to manage stress, anger, or other negative emotions. Despite having the same level of stress as younger people, they were still able to keep their moods elevated. Younger adults were far less able to regulate their negative emotions.
Other research points to the financial means of seniors to pay for the delivery of goods and services, and being able to stay safe at home during the pandemic without the added stress of supervising young children while working remotely. But in communities where several generations live under one roof and grandparents take an active role in family life, there was less of a happiness gap between generations.
Although different generations have not all been “in the same boat” during the pandemic, there is a life lesson to be learned from how well older adults have weathered the past year. Whenever possible, by looking for pleasure in the small aspects of life and balancing career and growth with mental and emotional well-being, adults of all ages can start to feel a greater sense of optimism and hope for the future.