Home Commentary A thought on age and happiness from David Brooks

A thought on age and happiness from David Brooks


brooks-circular-thumbLarge-v3New York Times Op Ed columnist David Brooks is one of those  people I love to hate, and occasionally hate to love. I fell for his mind back in the ’90s when I read his book Bobos in Paradise — he soooo “got me” as a Baby Boomer. Then I began to see how so much of his thinking came from a place of smug elitism that I felt embarrassed for us both. And yet. He has a nimble, well-furnished mind, and he occasionally still “gets me” — especially why I am so interested in working with older people to help them write and share their life stories.

This week he published a column about the satisfactions of late life. In “Why Elders Smile”  he riffs on research about happiness, describing a “U-Curve” that shows people rating themselves as happy in their 20s, then dipping toward unhappiness, bottoming out around age 50, and rising again to hit their happiest point between the ages of 82 and 85.

He writes,”My problem with a lot of the research on happiness in old age is that it is so deterministic. I’d rather think of happiness as an accomplishment, not a condition, that people get better at living through effort, by mastering specific skills. I’d like to think people get steadily better at handling life’s challenges…in old age, they have more control over the challenges they will tackle and they get even better at addressing them.”

After paragraphs of typical Brooksian musing, connecting psychological research to his own foregone conclusions (perfect example of why he annoys me), he comes down to the closing point that made me want to share.

“It’s comforting to know that, for many, life gets happier with age. But it’s more useful to know how individuals get better at doing the things they do. The point of culture is to spread that wisdom from old to young: to put the thousand-year-heart in a still young body.”

Think about it. Isn’t that a call to action, to write and share your memoir, to spread your wisdom to your young?

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