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Seniors better at handling negative emotions, study suggests

May 31, 2013

A growing collection of evidence has suggested that older adults tend to be happier than their younger counterparts. Yet, while a number of studies have confirmed these suspicions, what's less clear is why that is the case. However, new research presented at the Association for Psychological Science in May offers a potential answer. Scientists say that seniors are better able at handling negative emotions, especially anger and anxiety.

The findings are based on a study of 340 adults ages 21 to 73 who were asked to rate their levels of anxiety every day over the course of a two-week period. Additionally, researchers measured how well they managed stress by asking them to assess their anxiety both before and after they were told to make an on-camera speech. Study subjects were also instructed to rate their level of emotional acceptance. 

"Acceptance is good for anyone," Iris Mauss, a study researcher, told LiveScience. "It just seems to be the case that older people use it more than younger people. They're sort of wise to it."

Previous research has suggested that older adults are the happiest Americans. Specifically, one University of Chicago study found that people in their 80s are about two times more likely than those in their 50s to take part in social activities such as spending time with neighbors, attending religious functions and going to group meetings.

Happiness and social engagement are inextricably linked to healthy aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aside from improving one's mood, social activity can considerably lower the risk of developing chronic diseases and other health conditions. So it should come as no surprise that modern retirement communities place an emphasis on their residents' emotional and social well-being.