Grow Into Happiness

You know the situation, or at least you might remember it: as you’re just about to go out for the night, your parents are tucking themselves into bed. You look back and wonder how they could be content with spending the night watching Law & Order: SVU—how could they be happy with something so boring?

Social psychologists may have found the answer and it’s mostly a matter of perspective. While a night of partying and socializing can create happiness for the young, a night of television can be equally satisfying for older people. As a person ages, the things that make them happy change as well. To put it in psychological terms, humans experience a shift from “promotion motivation” to “prevention motivation.” When we’re younger, we look at things in terms of the reward they can provide. This causes us to evaluate our activities with questions like How can this social outing improve my social standing or sexual success? But when we age, happiness is found not through advancement, but stability. Older people derive happiness from calm consistency and trying to avoid things that might impact them negatively.

The Atlantic has more to say on the matter:

Research from Northwestern University in the journal Psychology and Aging suggests that promotion-mindedness is most prevalent among the young, because youth is a time for focusing on your hopes for the future, what you ideally want to do—you don’t have much in the way of responsibilities, and you still believe you can do anything you set your mind to. That and you think you are immortal. This is more or less a recipe for strong promotion motivation.

As we get older, illusions of immortality vanish. There is a mortgage that needs to be paid, a home that must be maintained, and children to be cared for.

Young people even use different language for the happiness they experience. “Excitement” and “elation” were more associated with the anticipated rewards of younger people, while the older participants used words such as “calm,” “relief,” and “peace.” In this way, both parties—young and old—are happy, but the happiness is achieved in different ways. Because our goals in life evolve, so too do our standards for happiness.


How Happiness Changes With Age,” Heidi Grant Halvorson, The Atlantic

Commentary Ticker

  • Google Glass Lets You Take Photos With Your Brain
    July 12, 2014 | 4:02 pm

    If you haven’t heard, electroencephalograms (EEGs) have been getting better. Way better. Artificial limbs and even video game controllers are utilizing the non-invasive brain-wave monitoring method to guide computers by thought. Now English startup This Place has developed a way to bring the technology to Google Glass, allowing Google’s wearable to read your mind. Well, […]

  • Android Art: The Accidental Selfies of Google Art Project
    July 5, 2014 | 11:11 am

    Within the cultural centers of the world lurks a mechanical beast draped in silver spinning madly and capturing everything, sometimes even itself. In 2011 Google created the Art Project, an initiative to bring their Street View technology inside the cultural epicenters of the world. Google enlisted 17 world-class museums in short time. Institutions such as […]

  • Purple Mountunes Majesty: The Most Patriotic Playlist
    July 4, 2014 | 12:13 pm

    A while ago, Paul Lamere of The Echo Nest, a music-analysis company, took to finding each state’s most distinctive, yet popular, artist in a viral article. Spotify took note, purchasing Echo Nest for their analytical talent. Together, they’ve released a blog post documenting each state’s most distinctively American song creating a patriotic playlist for the […]

  • Emojinealogy: Where the Heck Emojis Come From
    July 2, 2014 | 3:10 pm

    On June 16th, the Unicode Consortium announced that 250 new emoji would be added to the list of symbols available to people’s cellphones and computer devices. The list of the new symbols can be found on Emojipedia. And no, the list doesn’t include the much needed minority representation, but it does include your favorite (?) […]

  • The Decline and Fall of the American Mall
    June 24, 2014 | 9:07 pm

    For ages, the shopping mall was as essential to the architecture of suburbia as Levittowns and freeways. But in an era of online shopping, these epicenters of brick and mortar yesteryear are quietly being abandoned across the country. While the U.S. currently has around 1,500, the number may soon shrink, and rapidly, leading to abandoned […]

  • RSSArchive for Commentary Ticker »

Join our mailing list!

Trending on The Airspace