What is emotional well-being?

In our last blog post, we described some things that don’t change with age and some things that do. We reviewed the research that shows that our emotional well-being increases as we age and emotional well-being is critical for healthy aging. This paradox surprised researchers and led to a deeper understanding of emotional well-being as we age.

What is emotional well-being? It doesn’t mean we are happy all the time! It describes the fact that our emotions are more predictable as we age. Emotional highs and lows are more moderate; the swings are not as great. We control our thoughts and feelings better. When younger, we may have expressed anger more readily and intensely. The driver that beeped us when the light changed may have been the recipient of a few choice words! As we age, we respond less intensely and might even smile and wave to the angry driver behind us!

As we age, we cope with life’s challenges better because we have a tool kit filled with tools acquired through life experience. We’ve seen it all and are more apt to “let it go.” Psychology research has shown that older adults are more likely to put a positive spin on experiences and downplay negative aspects. They navigate their world to avoid negative experiences and try to defuse tense situations. We tend to strive for harmony within our families and with our friends. The result of these actions is a feeling of “emotional well-being.”

These changes have some significant consequences for interpersonal relationships, particularly with adult children. While older adults might want to disengage from conflict and preserve the peace, their adult children may not want to. This plays out in many different situations. For example, an adult child may believe that their parent should eat a healthy diet when all the parent wants is a hot dog and a soda. This difference in lifestyle creates conflict. In this circumstance, the parent may agree to eat a healthy diet and then find a way to have a hot dog and soda, unbeknownst to the adult child. Important and difficult conversations within the family may not be productive if the adult child pushes the parent, and the parent moves into conflict avoidance mode. Awareness of these aging-related changes helps facilitate relationships and conversations.

Given these changes, how do we achieve emotional well-being as we age? In our next blog post, we will explore those activities that support emotional well-being, particularly the importance of strong social networks.

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