Expert explains why your 70s are the happiest time of your life

‘We realise our runway is short, and we also simultaneously realise how fortunate we are to be alive.’

Expert explains why your 70s are the happiest time of your life

Ageing is a concept that evokes fear in many women, but clinical psychologist, Mary Pipher, who specialises in women and girls, says it’s in your later years that you’re happiest.

“The fact of the matter is we have very good research from the University of California, San Diego, that shows that the happiest demographic in both the UK and the United States is older women,” Dr Pipher told RN’s Life Matters.

“In fact, people as they age in the United States get happier right up until the last three months before they die.”

She claims that with age brings a ‘mastery of mood’, decades in the making.

“We’ve learned over the course of a lifetime that we are responsible for our own happiness; that it’s a matter of attitude, a matter of intentionality, a choice and a set of skills,” she said.

“And we’ve had 70 years to build that set of skills.”

Her research also shows that men may also experience increased happiness as they age, but there are experiences in ageing that don’t translate across the sexes.

Dr Pipher says that when women are younger they are valued for their attractiveness and are “socialised to be caretakers” which can contribute to unhappiness. But, in their later years, that weight is lessened, with many ageing women saying they have “greater self-acceptance, a more relaxed sense of who they are [and] permission to be themselves”.

She says that with this acceptance comes a certain confidence, evident in the women her age “walking around in very functional underwear or naked, laughing and joking, with a much lighter, more self-accepting and other-accepting tone”.

Dr Pipher says that attitudes towards ageing need to be adjusted.

“The old ways of thinking about ageing don’t fit very well with a generation of healthy people who want to continue to grow and have experiences, and often are having the best times in their lives,” she says.

More significantly, she says, ageing creates a ‘deadline’ that puts an impetus on doing more things to bring pleasure.

“One of the things that happens when we realise that the runway is short, is that we also simultaneously realise how fortunate we are to be alive,” said Dr Pipher.

“I used to say, ‘well, eventually I’m going to do this – eventually I’m going to spend a whole day reading all my favourite books’, or ‘eventually I’m going to go out and visit this little museum that’s three hours away that I’ve always wanted to see’.

“Well, what happens for me is, at 71, ‘eventually’ is no longer a word to me. If I want to do something, I try to do it.”

While she suggests that ageing and happiness are linked, it doesn’t necessarily mean that ageing happily is a simple process.

“I never argue that any of us can be happy all the time,” she said.

“I think happiness and sorrow are as intermingled as sea water and saltwater in the sea, and that if we are a full person, feeling the full gamut of our emotions, we don’t feel happy all the time.

“Of course we feel sad, we feel pain, we feel anger. And in fact, authenticity and self-acceptance are being able to work skilfully with those emotions.”

She believes the key to happiness is to be wary of ‘the beautiful’.

“We can have that choice walking out of our best friend’s funeral. We can decide to look up at the clouds in the sky or taste the rain on our tongue or listen for birdsong.

“The more loss, the more that is taken from them, the more they have learned to savour that which is left,” she says.

“All these things don’t mean we don’t feel pain, but we can make some choices that allow us to grow into bigger people than we would have been otherwise.”

Do you agree that your 70s are your happiest years?

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    6th Sep 2019
    I'll believe that if/when I see it Leon. When your kids have bad partners and no longer want you in their lives then happiness is always going to be tainted. Its a growth industry from what I read.
    And then there are those who do not have enough money to live a comfortable life. Plenty of those folk around.
    Your story sounds a lot like make believe but who am I to question what I have no facts and figures for. Anecdotal evidence is however pretty strong.
    6th Sep 2019
    You can't blame the partner for the behaviour of a child. If they have a partner then they are an adult and make their own decisions. You can choose to accept their decisions and move on. Or fight them and hurt only yourself, after all they are not there to witness your hurt are they.
    As for not being happy because you don't have a healthy bank balance, I call BS on that too. It is not necessary to have life and all its trimmings to be happy. There are thousands with millions in the bank and miserable as sin. Gratitude for what you have and contentment with your lot goes a long way to making peace with your life. Of course a little extra (or a lot) would be nice but you can be happy and content with less. As the article says being grateful for the rain, birds, sunshine, even your skiing holidays Mick, will change your mindset from envy and misery, to acceptance and happiness.
    6th Sep 2019
    Dead set right KSS. Do your best to find contentment and you've got it made :)
    6th Sep 2019
    Oh, Jeez ! Wish I had been born female :( BUT, wait ! I'm male, 80 years old and have been happy for many, many years. Far more than I have been sad and by luck/choice I choose to ignore/forget those bad times. * BIG bonus - I'm content with my life, thanks to consciously minimising my 'regrets' over the past 3 decades :)
    6th Sep 2019
    p.s. friends and relatives are bored with hearing about my three (countem' ONLY 3) regrets so have to share them here ;).... 1. Never learnt to snow ski and had the opportunities.....2. Never had an affair with a redhead, never had a real opportunity :(..... 3. Not For Publication :D
    6th Sep 2019
    heyyybob No 3 is my biggest regret too.
    6th Sep 2019
    casey.... yep, as they say, 'you can't win them all' *snigger, snigger ;) 'Next time' Oh, wait, there won't be, will there :(
    8th Sep 2019
    Woopee I am 70. No it is not the greatest time of my life. I would rather have my good health and stressful job back.
    8th Sep 2019
    I remember reading somewhere that time seems to speed up every 18 years. First 18 years of life takes forever!. Then each subsequent 18 years time seems to pass more quickly. Then when you hit 72, it reverts to the first 18 years, so time seems to pass more slowly. Now that I am in that phase of life, I have to say I have noticed the time between Easter and Christmas does appear to take longer and I am enjoying every minute of it! Getting married again in May certainly helped!

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