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How to age happily

How to age happily

Experts say people should start investing in various aspects of life to improve their well-being and self-esteem
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K

Have you started investing in happiness? When Happiest Health posed the question to a few people in their 20s, 30s and 40s living in Bengaluru, Delhi, Guwahati and Hyderabad, they were baffled.

They had all made financial investments to take care of their needs in their old age or in an emergency, but the idea of happiness investment sounded something new to all of them.

In From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life (2022), American social scientist and author Arthur C Brooks writes that happiness, just like finance, needs to be planned and saved in our earlier decades to reap its benefits in our older days. “We can all teach ourselves to do some very specific things at any age to make our last decades much, much happier,” he says.


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Brooks is the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School.

Invest in happiness

Back in India’s Hyderabad, Joseph Mani, 72, a retired government employee, told Happiest Health that he spent his entire youth and midlife working and earning for his family. “There was no time to think about health and happiness,” he said. “My health went for a toss. I got diabetes and back pain during my working days. I have some financial savings, if one can call that happiness.”

Mani’s son Lenin, 45, an IT professional in Bengaluru, confessed that he too was yet to invest in happiness. However, experts recommend we all need to do so.
“Yes, people need to make a conscious choice to invest in happiness,” Dr Karthika Kalimuthu, chief happiness officer, Be Well Hospitals, Chennai, told Happiest Health. “Basically, what you sow now is what you will reap later. So, we need to start young. I believe every young adult should start investing in various aspects of life to improve their well-being and self-esteem. It gives a sense of fulfilment as they age gracefully.
“Help is available to be happy. As a life coach I measure the happiness level of people and conduct workshops to help them feel good as professionals and individuals.”

Genes or joy?

“Good genes are nice, but joy is better,” the Harvard Gazette, the press organ of Harvard University, wrote in 2017.

This conclusion was based on the Harvard Study of Adult Development — which started in 1938 and is one of the world’s longest studies of adult life.

The researchers collected a huge amount of data on the physical and mental health of people they have been following for decades. The first batch tracked by scientists consisted of 268 people, all Harvard sophomores, in 1938 (during the Great Depression). Over the years, more people (1,300) were included in the study. Out of those from the first batch, most are dead but a few, in their 90s, are still alive.

The study found that in old age happiness and good health comes by embracing our immediate community, developing close relationship with our families and friends, avoiding smoking and alcohol in excess, eating food sensibly, maintaining a healthy weight, having access to education, strong mental mechanism to cope with life’s ups and downs, and developing empathy and attachment with each other.

These aspects — which help people to reduce discontents in their lives and delay mental and physical decline — are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ or even genes, the study concluded.

Dos and don’ts for graceful ageing

Dr Kalimuthu told Happiest Health that graceful ageing involves three main factors: being free of disability or disease, having high cognitive and physical abilities, and interacting with others in meaningful ways.

Prescribing 10 dos and don’ts for ageing well, Dr Kalimuthu stressed on combating depression, keeping LDLc (low-density lipoproteins or ‘bad’ cholesterol) low, getting regularly immunised, participating in cancer screenings, maintaining social contact with neighbours, friends, families and colleagues, quitting smoking, regulating blood glucose level, being physically active, lowering systolic blood pressure and maintaining healthy bones, joints and muscles.

Dr Kalimuthu conducts an ‘Action for Happiness Programme’, a monthly thematic event endorsed by the Dalai Lama, at Be Well Hospitals. “The aim of the exercise is to bring people together and provide practical resources to help each other learn evidence-based skills for happier living,” she said.

When Happiest Health asked Dr Kalimuthu what kind of preparations a person in her early 20s can start doing to lead a happy life in her 60s, she suggested the following rules:

  • Protect your skin with SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreen every day
  • Eat at least six servings of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Start an exercise routine
  • Get a physical exam every year
  • See a gynaecologist urologist
  • Get an electrocardiogram done
  • Practise stress reduction
  • Get enough sleep

“Develop a strong sense of community and contribute selflessly for it,” she said. “It will give you a strong sense of purpose while aging joyfully with your peers.”

Dr Steve Paul Manjaly, consultant geriatrician, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru, stressed that everyone (especially older people) should take good care of health to lead a happy life. “A large section of people neglects their health,” he said. “Elderly people should go for regular medical check-ups (the frequency depends on their health status) to mitigate the health consequences.”

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