The secret to happiness? Outliving your enemies. And plenty of cake

How to be happy? Live to the ripe old age of 82

How happy are you? The exact amount of happiness in your life might be difficult to quantify, but it seems the age at which you have most of it can be pinpointed easily enough; it’s 82. The good news is, the best is yet to come. The bad news is, well, you might not live long enough to experience it.

There are quite a few rather contented 82 year olds in the public eye. Actor and all-round legend Judi Dench; cake queen Mary Berry; and believe it or not, the most serene of them all, the Dalai Lama is 82. When you look at it like that, maybe you already know the secrets to happiness – a healthy dose of drama, plenty of cake, and the ability to accept what you cannot change. I’ll sign up to that life plan any day.

A study by MindLab has found that 82 year olds are happier than any other age group. Forget dodgy hips, cataracts, hair loss and the litany of other medical complaints that accompany old age, they apparently don’t matter when it comes to your general state of mind.

82 is a ripe old age by any standards. An 82 year old today was around for World War Two, for the establishment of the Irish Republic, for the Bay of Pigs Crisis, the Arms Crisis, the Falklands War and the 1994 IRA ceasefire. They were there for the millennium celebrations and the 1916 commemoration. It’s a lot of history in one lifetime.

Maybe there’s something in that. The more we’ve seen, the more it should take to faze us. In theory, anyway. Elderly people have been through it all. Probably, by 82, you’re not that concerned about what people think of you. Sex is unlikely to be much of a preoccupation – or maybe, given the antics of certain ageing rockers, I’m assuming too much. And keeping up with the Joneses is no more, because, well, they died years ago and you can’t even pronounce the names of that young couple who moved into their house. And you never liked them anyway – the survey didn’t ask people how it felt to outlive their enemies, but I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar it certainly adds a certain level of cheer.

The study found that the happiness observed among 82 year olds can partially be attributed to spending a lot of time with their families – four and a half hours per day. They spend just over seven hours sleeping, three hours with friends, and three on the internet. All our grannies are on Facebook now, it seems, but nothing beats real-life facetime; a lesson the younger ones surveyed probably need to absorb.

The scientists who carried out the study found that teenagers were the most miserable and put the difference down in part to not spending enough time with their loved ones. It certainly makes the entire teenage trope of storming off to your room in a sulk and not emerging for days seem rather self-defeating. The average 18 year old surveyed spent seven hours on the internet, six watching TV and over eight hours in bed. No wonder they’re not happy – that leaves just three hours a day for eating, meeting people, exercising and simply going outside. No mention of where they fitted school, college or work into those hours either, which I can only assume means all the 18 year olds surveyed either work as TV reviewers or computer hackers.

Across age groups, those who favoured experiences over possessions, socialising rather than being alone, and staying at home rather than going on holidays, proved happiest. As I’m sure all the 82 year olds who spend three hours a day online could tell you, there’s a meme for that – instead of wondering when your next holiday is, build a life you don’t want to escape from. The bit the meme doesn’t tell is you is that then you must cling onto it until you’ve outlived all your enemies. And don’t forget the cake.

From The Herald 07.07.17


One comment

  1. Yes I’d concur with that. When I was diagnosed with cancer back in 1987 there were a certain three of my mother’s relatives who made no secret of the fact that they were hoping I wouldn’t pull out of it. As I’m an only child my mother would have to leave her house to someone……… They were none too happy when I DID pull out of it and, since then, two of them have passed away, they were all much older than me anyway. I declined to attend their funerals as the temptation to gloat might have been unseemly.

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