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Claudia Haase
Haase: The elderly are less cynical than you may think.

I spent an enjoyable hour over coffee last week with my old buddy, The Beast, and his 7-month-old son, Connor (AKA CDBG). TB introduced me to the youngster as “The Cynical Reporter,” a nickname I earned a decade ago as a City Hall beat writer. It’s a moniker I’ve always embraced, at least as it describes my view of the political sphere, but I don’t really think of myself in those terms.

Oh sure, my tennis nemesis, The Baseline Machine, has on more than one occasion called me a “curmudgeon,” but that may have more to do with my mood on those occasions when I’m futilely chasing service returns into the far corners of the court. To many of my other friends and colleagues, I think I present a generally upbeat, sunny temperament (though I’ve never conducted a thorough survey). And My Lovely Wife thinks I’m a swell companion (most of the time, as far as I can tell).

This all gets me to thinking that maybe it’s my advanced middle age that is working to my disadvantage. It’s pretty common for the general populace to assume that old folks are prone to crankiness. I don’t think this is necessarily due to some blind prejudice; it’s sort of a cultural assumption cemented by youth-addled perceptions. When you’re 28 years old and waiting not so patiently behind some senior citizen who’s clambering precariously up the steps and onto the bus, it’s easy to presume that geezer is not having much fun.

Senior Citizens: Less Cynical or More Happy?

But new research suggests that folks my age and older are actually much less cynical and suspicious than we might think — and a lot happier, as a result.

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University at Buffalo, followed nearly 200,000 people from 83 countries, including the U.S., and concluded that we become more trusting as we age, even if our trust is sometimes violated. “When we think of old age, we often think of decline and loss,” study co-author Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of education and social policy at Northwestern, said in a statement released by the university. “But a growing body of research shows that some things actually get better as we age. Our new findings show that trust increases as people get older and, moreover, that people who trust more are also more likely to experience increases in happiness over time.”

Those levels of trust grow as we get older, Haase surmised, because the older we get, the more we feel an inclination to give back to others. “We know that older people are more likely to look at the bright side of things,” she explained. “As we age, we may be more likely to see the best in other people and forgive the little letdowns that got us so wary when we were younger.”

At one point during our coffee shop get-together last week, TB handed young CDBG over to me, and went across the street to run an errand. We eyed each other a bit warily at first (especially the youngster), but by the time TB returned we were yukking it up pretty good and making plans to hang out some down the road. By the time the little guy understands what cynical means, I’m guessing he’ll be asking his dad why he wants to call me that.

Thoughts to share?

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