There’s an old saying that goes, “You’re only as old as you feel.” Now, a new study by North Carolina State University confirms that not only is that proverb true, but also how old you feel is closely linked to your feelings of accomplishment.
The study, which was recently published in the European Journal of Ageing, drew their findings from an online survey of 296 adults over the age of 60 from across the United States. Participants were asked to rate their socioeconomic status, compare their own status to those of their peers, and describe their attitude toward aging.
We’ve long known that wealthy people tend to live longer and tend to be healthier in their twilight years, but here’s where the study gets interesting.
What impacted a participant’s attitude toward their old age wasn’t how successful they are objectively, but how successful they feel.
“We’re not talking about actual socioeconomic status, but about how people feel their socioeconomic status compares to others in their community,” Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “So, someone could be successful and affluent, but if they feel less successful and affluent than their peers, they are more likely to feel older and have more negative attitudes regarding aging.”
The actual socioeconomic status, education, and income of an individual was not found to have much impact on how he or she feels about getting older. But how that individual perceives their own status, especially when compared to others, make a big difference.
“We found that the effect was linear,” Neupert says. “The higher one’s perceived relative socioeconomic status, the younger people felt and the better their attitudes about aging; the lower one’s perceived status, the older people felt and the worse they felt about aging. We found this effect regardless of age, physical health, sex or race….In short, the urge to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ appears to have real consequences as we grow older,” Neupert said. “This is important because negative attitudes about aging, and how old we feel, determine how we respond to stress and can affect quality of life — and health — in a meaningful way.”
The findings corroborate with research conducted in nine remote villages in southern Italy, where residents routinely live to be older than 90. The study found that one of the personality traits that they all had in common was that, in spite of going through hardships, they all had a positive attitude about their own lives. None of these people are wealthy by traditional standards, lending credence to the idea that how good you feel about your life on the inside is much more significant than what it looks like on the outside.
It’s a mantra that central to how ageless wonder Jane Fonda manages to look so amazing at the age of 80. To maintain this happy attitude, Fonda suggested re-calibrating how we tend to approach getting older, saying, “The old paradigm was: You’re born, you peak at midlife, and then you decline into decrepitude…Looking at aging as ascending a staircase, you gain well-being, spirit, soul, wisdom, the ability to be truly intimate and a life with intention.”
For more advice on how to look and feel your best over 65, check out our 100 Best Anti-Aging Secrets.
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