09:50am Wednesday 03 June 2020

Older adults and the pursuit of happiness


Dr Annette Henricksen

Dr Annette Henricksen, from Palmerston North, explored older adults’ intentional happiness-enhancing activities and their link with wellbeing and health as part of her PhD thesis. “Research on the wellbeing of older adults is becoming increasingly important in order to inform social policy and planning especially with the growing aging population,” she says.

“Happiness has been linked to better physical and mental health, and my study looks at the links between ‘intentional happiness-enhancing’ activities and different aspects of wellbeing and health for older adults.”

Her study involved more than 3000 older adults and investigated how these activities can enhance wellbeing and health. The Massey researcher, who graduated with her doctorate on Friday, explains her research identified four types of happiness-enhancing activities.

The activities are described as: personally rewarding activities that fit with interests, strengths and skills; personal recreation and people, which includes spending time with family or friends, volunteer activities or taking part in interest groups; spiritual and thought related, for example positive thinking or praying; and goal-focused, such as devoting time to work, property, or other important personal goals.

The research comprised four studies. The first involved analysis of interviews with 23 people aged 56-76 on the types of activities they engage in. The second then developed a measure of older adults’ activities that was tested against survey responses from 2313 older adults aged from 55-73 years.

The third study used the same data to examine relationships between activities, happiness, and health outcomes, and the final part employed a longitudinal investigation of 1730 older adults to expand on the nature of relationships between intentional activities, wellbeing, and health outcomes.

The research found personally rewarding activities and social activities came out on top when it came to making older adults happy. Dr Henricksen says older people are already aware of the health advantages of social engagement; however, her research findings suggest there are also benefits to be found for those who prefer more solitary pursuits.

“Results indicate older adults’ intentional activities positively relate to happiness, life satisfaction, and life meaning, and that these in turn are predictive of better physical and mental health,” Dr Henricksen says.

“These findings point to potential benefits of promoting older adults’ intentional activities, particularly personally rewarding, and socially-orientated activities, for improving wellbeing and reducing age-related health declines.”

Massey University.

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