Friday, January 8, 2010

Rethinking happiness

We only caught the tail-end of the final episode – “Rethinking happiness” – of a three-part PBS series titled “This Emotional Life.” The snippets we caught dealt with some interesting ideas on happiness as they relate to age.

Older people, it seems, are generally happier than younger ones…. 65-year-olds are happier than 47-year-olds who are happier than 25-year-olds.

There are all kinds of reasons, but the gist of it, by our lights, is that older people are happier because they are more absurd.

One of the reasons researchers found for happiness in older people: they were less burdened by the future. “The future is a burden,” one of the researchers said. We plan for it. We worry about it. And it affects our present day happiness. Older people, perhaps because they have less of a future, worry less about it. “I know I don’t have that long to live,” says one elderly lady. “But it’s a rewarding a time.”

This idea is very absurd, as the ideal absurd man lives in the present and certainly does not fret over his future.

And, sitting there looking back over a life lived, older people realize they have less control over what happens… and gain some comfort from accepting what has happened. Acceptance, too, is a big part of the absurd. Just taking things as they come and making peace with the universe at it is.

Another idea: older people were more comfortable about who they were, their own strengths and weaknesses, and were more secure in their likes and dislikes… they were better at arranging their lives to suit them, rather than trying to meet some other, external, standard. True to the ideas of the absurd, happiness is within.

As we say, we only caught a little bit of this show, but we found some of the ideas fascinating and useful and pass them along for what they are worth. It also jibes with what we’ve speculated on before about age and the absurd.

Many of the things we think will make us happy, won’t. Happiness truly comes from the deep wells within – from acceptance, from living in the moment, from absurdity itself.


  1. Nice comments, gents, and happy new year . . . Brian here (posted before under the ol' "Anonymous:).

    As someone interested in adult learning-- and especially learning in the later years--one of the things your post reminded me of is that older folks also have a wonderful way of letting their *eccentric* sides emerge . . . with a "world be damned" freedom and levity in their ways. So nice to see, especially when so many have felt themselves emotionally numbed from donning false persona after false persona . . .

    I pass along one of my favorite quotes from someone I know you appreciate as well, Lin Yutang:

    "The fear of letting people know one’s age is nonsensical. How can one be thought wise unless one is thought to be old? And what do the young really know about life? The Chinese realize this, and have always pictured an old man with ruddy cheeks and white hair as the symbol of ultimate earthly happiness. That is why all old people, if they can, should go and live in China. On the whole, I find grand old men with white beards missing in the American picture. One must admit that we must so plan our pattern of life that the golden period lies in old age and not behind us in youth and innocence."



  2. (the first part of the series can be found here: other parts are linked on the bottom of that page.)

  3. I think what older people mean by happiness is "contentment". Older people are more in contentment (which is perfect happiness) because they are done away for the most part with chasing material things and are now living life of less expectations and desires. In case of younger people, they are full of expectations and desires. The life driven by expectations and desires can not give contentment. Yeah, they would feel happiness, but that would be only momentary; they will not come off the cycle of happiness and pain.

  4. Readers may also like to read my idea on perfect happiness expressed here (click) on my blog.

    You may as well like to follow it, if you find it interesting. Thank you :)