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Achieve Greater Happiness as You Age

Written by Paul Wolf

Happiness and agingYou can choose to be happy. With age, we are actually programmed to become more emotionally stable and have the wisdom to choose people and goals that make us happy. 

Perhaps you were happier in your youth but chances are you weren't, according to mounting research.

Survey after survey reveals people gain a greater emotional stability, the bedrock of happiness, as they grow older. Understanding why may help you make full use of your happiness edge.

Youth seems to be a time of dramatic mood swings , distorted thinking, unrealistic expectations, manic highs and lows, reckless behavior and a feverish struggle to define the self. "Storms of youth" is more than an elegant turn of phrase.<

Recent studies and as far back as November 1998 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology article reports that men and women both grow happier throughout their adult lives. Authors Daniel Mroczek and Christian Kolarz say their study and dozens of others suggest age influences well being more than sickness, economic conditions and life events. In The Pursuit of Happiness, David Myers provides a partial explanation: "With age, stress declines ," he writes. "The upheavals and traumas of dating, child rearing and vocation are behind you."

But there has to be more to the story. Middle-age people have their own struggles, such as menopause, midlife crisis, aging parents and health problems. Mroczek and Kolarz offered a slightly radical explanation: We are programmed to move toward greater contentment.

For reasons unknown, they say, humans develop a "greater regulation of emotion" with time. Is it hormonal, biochemical? One way or another, the statistics for murder, suicide and even divorce support the theory.

Of course, there are enough joyful and miserable souls of all ages to go around. Still, if it's true you have a happiness edge, you ought to take advantage of it. 

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How to Enjoy Your Happiness Edge

Here's some advice to make sure your happiness edge is working for you.

Avoid Extreme Forms of Thinking
The young are prone to mentally flying off the handle. They "catastrophize" a snub from a friend, a critical remark from a boss or a bad grade on an exam, according to cognitive therapist Michael Edelstein."Some people just get nuttier as they get older, but if you try to live rationally, you can see every event in all its complexity," Edelstein says.

Give Up Impossible Dreams
Living in dreamland is not a prescription for happiness."Young people place impossible demands on the world by insisting I must never be bored and life must always be exciting," Edelstein says. "As you get older, your preferences are supposed to be more in line with reality."

Aligning yourself with reality can mean avoiding people and things that make you pull your hair out, and directing your energy toward what gives you satisfaction.

Dream the Possible Dreams
Chasing reasonable goals gives life meaning.We live in exciting times. Age has become less of a factor in determining whether people can change careers, launch businesses, start families and new relationships, or otherwise reinvent themselves.

Become Master of the World,Your World
Knowledge and control are key elements in making stress work for you, not against you, according to Benno Roozendaal, a Ph.D. researcher with the University of California's Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory in Irvine.

Stress that is accompanied by a feeling of competence is the heart and soul of achievement and even happiness. At midlife, you know quite a bit more about the world and your options.

Choose Happiness
Young and old can make the decision that you are "going to be happy no matter what. When you are older, you are more likely to make the decision stick," says cognitive therapist Kathleen Burton.

No one is born knowing the vital relationship between attitude and happiness. The fortunate ones in life, no matter what their age, discover it early and remember it often.

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