Over Easy: Old days really are good

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 3/27/2021 11:08:56 AM
Modified: 3/27/2021 11:08:54 AM

On behalf of seniors everywhere: It took us a lot of years to get this old, so we don’t want to waste the effort.

That’s my reaction to a recent study reported in the New York Times that found that older folks stayed happier during the pandemic. Stress was heaped on everyone, but “younger people were doing far worse than older people,” according to Laura Carstensen, a psychologist at Stanford University’s Center on Longevity. Her team did happiness checks on 1,000 people jolly and dour.

“Older age was associated with less concern about the threat of COVID-19, better emotional well-being, and more daily positive events,” said the authors of a University of British Columbia study whose survey results were similar.

I have long been intrigued by research that suggests people get happier as they get older. Especially as I was getting older. Maybe they choose, like the old song says, to walk on the sunny side of the street. Here in the Upper Valley that’s essential. There are only so many sunny days during our spring, our melt/muck/mud season, so you cherish them. I didn’t skip down the street this week when the weather hit 60, but I was skipping inside.

Since elders were the ones most endangered by COVID-19, it’s surprising that many shrugged off the big risk — you know, the mortality thing. One of my new hobbies this past year was checking the official New Hampshire COVID Dashboard almost daily, so I could worry with more precision. The main chart showed cases taking off to the wild blue yonder, until they finally started coming back down to earth in January. (But alarmingly, they’ve started creeping up recently.)

Another graph shows the percentage of the overall death toll coming from various age groups. As of Thursday it was:

■ From 50 to 59: 2%.

■ From 60 to 69: 8.6%.

■ From 70 to 79: 22.9%.

■ Over 80: 65.2%.

These are numbers that could keep you up at night, but I’m already being kept up by bad dreams, good dreams, creaks (in the house, not me), the price of oil, the price of Ben & Jerry’s, phone calls I should have made, phone calls I should have skipped, some wise guy’s taunt from my sophomore year of high school that I wish I could answer now because I would really show him, etc. Regrets, alas, make very bad pillows.

It’s hard to know exactly why happiness should come with age, but some ideas immediately pop up. We are done climbing to the top, and hopefully satisfied with the view from where we are. Grandparents take kids out for ice cream, return them to their parents for tantrums. Some online commenters on the New York Times story said serenity mostly comes from guaranteed incomes and government health insurance. That retiree looks and acts sweet, but don’t kid yourself. Nana is a socialist!

I work part time in retirement and like it. But if I didn’t I could be out the door in anything from two weeks to two minutes, because our lavish lifestyle (thrift shops, day-old bread stores, the finest dark chocolate-covered peppermint patties money can buy at the dollar store) is already covered. We don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. Enough is all.

On top of all that, we seniors got preferred appointments for the COVID-19 vaccines, which is why many are getting a little frisky now. They didn’t head to spring break in Florida, since there’s not much point in carousing if you go to bed by 9. But I expect raucous bingo games any day now. Look for a 2003 Mercury Grand Marquis cruising Route 12A and blasting Vermont Public Radio with the windows down. Seniors may not be aging like fine wine, but they might be sipping some.

Speaking of happiness, the Gallup World Poll just released its annual ranking of the happiest places on Earth, and it’s not the home of Disney World. The top five countries in “World Happiness Report 2021” are Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands. The next five are Sweden, Germany, Norway, New Zealand, Austria.

The U.S. isn’t terribly far down the list, at 14, after Ireland and ahead of Canada.

I’m not a political scientist, but I notice that a lot of the cheery countries are the ones where taxes are higher but basic needs are well-taken-care-of. They have fewer worries about health care, college costs and retirement. We are fixated on gun rights.

In our own minds we’re No. 1. The others are feeling too safe and secure to know they are miserable.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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