Ordinary Life Can Make Older People Content

What makes us happy as we age?

Is it different than what makes us happy when we’re young?

A new study published Tuesday in the Journal of Consumer Research explores the role of age on the happiness we receive from both the ordinary and the extraordinary experiences in our lives.

From exotic travel to simply spending time with our grandchildren, the things that make us happy do change as we age, according to researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania.

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In a series of eight studies, they asked participants to recall, plan, or imagine happy experiences in an attempt to draw a distinction between experiences that are ordinary (common and frequent) versus extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent).

In one study, over 200 participants from across the United States and between the ages of 18 and 79 were asked to recall a recent extraordinary experience that made them happy.

The researchers assigned the responses into 12 broad categories including spending time with others, life milestones, and travel.

While responses from all age groups reported happiness in extraordinary experiences, study results indicated that happiness from ordinary experiences was more common in the older age demographic.

“Young people actively seeking to define themselves find it particularly rewarding to accumulate extraordinary experiences that mark their progression through life milestones,” the study authors reported.

“On the other hand, once people are older and have established a better sense of who they are, the experiences they view as self-defining are just as likely to include the routine daily events that reveal how they like to spend their time.”