Aging happily? This is how you do it

Published on: 1 October 2020

To live a long and happy life; that’s what we all want. And the great thing is; we can have that. How to get happy and stay happy: Josanne Huijg, scientist and expert in aging happily, knows this. Here, she shares 5 tips for being happy as you get older.


Ask people what happiness means to them and no two answers will be the same. “Happiness means something different to everyone,” psychologist Josanne Huijg from knowledge institute Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing says. She conducts research regarding growing old happily and meaningfully. “It may sound obvious, but in order to determine how you can be happy when you get older, you first need to establish what happiness means to you.”  Science identifies three approaches to happiness: hedonistic, eudaimonistic and an evaluation of your own life in general. “Hedonistic wellbeing means to experience positive emotions and enjoyment,” Huijg says, “for example, by enjoying art, music, good food and the company of loved ones.” Eudaimonistic wellbeing is related to meaningfulness, self-actualization and the feeling that you matter in the world.”


Determine your happiness factors

To know what you need to do to be and stay happy, you must realize what the focus is for you. Huijg: “Do you enjoy company? Does art make you happy, or watching movies or walking in nature? Or do you experience happiness when you can be important to others? For some people, having their family members around them is the main factor for happiness. Others feel happy being active and busy and moving a lot. So, ask yourself this question: what is important to me? How satisfied am I in that department? And what can I do or change to improve my satisfaction?”


Invest in relationships

The definition of happiness may be different for everybody, but there are definitely a number of factors that can contribute to anyone’s sense of wellbeing. Loving relationships, for example.  They are an important condition for being happy in old age, research has shown. Huijg: “That does not mean that not everyone has the same needs in terms of friendship and family. One person appreciates seeing a dear friend once in a while, while someone else prefers to be with someone every day. But, generally speaking, the quality of social relationships is one of the main determinants for happiness.”


“Loving relationships are an important condition for being happy in old age”



The advice is therefore to keep investing in friendships and cherished connections, even during periods that you may have less time for that. Huijg: “Many people between 30 and 50 are busy with their families or careers and become more selective in the relationships they want to put energy into. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in the long run, it is good to ask yourself periodically: which relationships make me happy and do I want to maintain? And to consciously make time for those.”


Get moving

Take a walk in the fresh air. Go for a bike ride with your head in the wind. Or go for a run. “Movement makes many people happy,” Huijg says, “exercising releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. But movement does not make everyone happy. In fact, it makes about thirty percent of people unhappy.” Nevertheless, regular exercise does contribute to being happy in old age. “Staying active keeps us healthy. And people who experience their health as positive, are generally happier.” Maybe it would be good to consider that daily walk or that yoga class after all.”


Do something (for someone else)

Doing something for someone else: it is not only noble, it also makes you happy, research shows. “It is important for your wellbeing to feel like you matter, to others and to society,” Huijg says. “It is therefore essential to mentally prepare for the time after you retire. Because that time can arouse a sense of freedom and rest, but also sometimes a feeling of emptiness and alienation. How do you ensure that you keep experiencing a sense of value? To keep working in an adjusted way may contribute to that. But also doing volunteer work. Babysitting the grandchildren. Or caring for a neighbor that needs help. Older people who regularly do something for others experience more meaning in their lives.”  Recent research in Germany has shown that grandparents who babysit their grandchildren even live longer. But, Huijg nuances, you definitely don’t need to be working as a do-gooder all the time. “Doing something small for someone once in a while will already provide more moments of happiness.”


Practice feeling satisfied

When you’re satisfied, you always have enough, the cliche says. But cliches are often true. Practicing feeling satisfied is one of the most important things you can do to get happy and stay happy, according to Huijg. “Happiness doesn’t depend on the circumstances so much, but rather on the way someone experiences those circumstances.  Older people that have a lot of physical limitations can still be very happy. And there are also those who have very few limitations, but really suffer from them. In general, you can say: happy older people know their limitations and focus on opportunities and possibilities.” Is it not your nature to count your blessing? There is still hope. Because satisfaction is something you can practice. “Every day, write down a few little things you appreciate. When it comes to happiness, we often focus on external factors,” Huijg says. “But research has shown: being satisfied with what you have, that’s what really makes you happy.”