The Wall Street Journal published an article recently that challenges head on the declinist myths of aging. In this week’s must read article the WSJ examines how the research is flying in the face of conventional wisdom that tells us old age is all over but the cryin’.
Everyone knows that as we age, our minds and bodies decline—and life inevitably becomes less satisfying and enjoyable. Everyone knows that cognitive decline is inevitable. Everyone knows that as we get older, we become less productive at work. Everyone, it seems, is wrong.
You just gotta love it when an article from a major media outlet starts off like this.
Contrary to the stereotype of later life as a time of loneliness, depression and decline, a growing body of scientific research shows that, in many ways, life gets better as we get older. “The story used to be that satisfaction with life went downhill, but the remarkable thing that researchers are finding is that doesn’t seem to be the case,” says Timothy Salthouse, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. In fact, a growing body of evidence indicates that our moods and overall sense of well-being improve with age. Friendships tend to grow more intimate, too, as older adults prioritize what matters most to them, says Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. Other academics have found that knowledge and certain types of intelligence continue to develop in ways that can even offset age-related declines in the brain’s ability to process new information and reason abstractly. Expertise deepens, which can enhance productivity and creativity. Some go so far as to say that wisdom—defined, in part, as the ability to resolve conflicts by seeing problems from multiple perspectives—flourishes.To be sure, growing older has its share of challenges. Some people don’t age as well as others. And especially at advanced ages, chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension and dementia become increasingly common and can take a toll on mental, as well as physical, health.
Still, those who fall into the “stereotype of being depressed, cranky, irritable and obsessed with their alimentary canal” constitute “no more than 10% of the older population,” says Paul Costa, a scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, who for more than three decades directed the personality program of the long-running Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. “The other 90% of the population isn’t like that at all,” Dr. Costa says.