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Seniors Find Happiness in Little Things

Resident Marva Howard

Resident Marva Howard, seated, enjoys a moment with staffer Kirstie Kalany.

What makes people happy? A fancy car?  The latest cell phone? You might be surprised at the answer. Researchers have found that most people value experiences over things. A vacation or concert has more meaning for most of us than new possessions.

But the kind of experience people value most changes as they age. A study reported in the Journal of Consumer Research found that young people derive the most happiness from extraordinary experiences. They like doing things that give them a thrill. Older people, on the other hand, get the most pleasure from doing ordinary things – a visit from a loved one, a walk in the garden, a good meal with friends.

Why do the things that make us happy change as we age? The study’s author believes that extraordinary experiences help young people establish personal identities. Being brave enough to bungee jump off a bridge or hike to Machu Picchu helps them figure out who they want to become. In addition, young people usually believe they have many years ahead of them, so they like doing things that add excitement to their lives.

As we age and become more comfortable with who we are, we value ordinary experiences, the study found. As senior citizens, we believe our time is limited, and so we put more value on day to day experiences. Appreciating the little things in our daily lives becomes central to our sense of self.

So the next time you want to do something nice for an older friend or relative, don’t bother trying to find somewhere new to take them. They’d probably prefer just spending time with you.