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Joy, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”  Synonyms include delight, gaiety, and bliss.

With these parameters, is it surprising that experts have discovered a correlation between joy and aging?  Recent research shows that after middle age, many people in the United States steadily become happier.  A common shift in priorities seems to take place for middle-aged people.  More tangible goals, such as those related to one’s career, start to matter less and are replaced with goals of personal well-being.

The Economist published a story about post-middle-age happiness in December 2010.  The piece featured “the U-bend of life,” a representation of how our lives’ happiness meters take a dip in our 40s, but rise in the years afterward.  One expert blogger for WebMD suggested a few reasons why the U-bend occurs:

  1. As we get older, we gain perspective on what is important and what is not, and we choose to focus our energies on the prior.
  2. We become mellower with age and the stress of satisfying others becomes far less important than the wish to satisfy ourselves.
  3. As “the rest of our lives” becomes shorter, we let go of the past and focus on the present.

One factor that doesn’t contribute to affect the joy of aging?  Money.

The Economist reported:

“Older people tend to be richer.  Could their relative contentment be the result of their piles of cash?  The answer, it turns out, is no: control for cash, employment status and children, and the U-bend is still there.  So the growing happiness that follows middle-aged misery must be the result not of external circumstances but of internal changes.”

Most of the research supporting the U-bend are based on “happiness polls.”  But neurology also suggests that aging and joy go hand in hand.  According to an EverydayHealth.com webcast on the joy of aging, our brains become less reactive to negative stimuli as we get older.  This results in less negative emotion being felt at all.

So what do you think—is aging a joy?  What are your favorite and least favorite parts of getting older?