In our minds, old age is often associated with negative outcomes, such as a decline in physical health, but research consistently finds that older adults tend to experience more positive emotion than their younger counterparts. In this study, older adults reported greater awareness of being in the present moment, also known as mindfulness, than younger adults. Furthermore, this mindfulness helped to explain why older adults reported more positive emotion than younger adults do, suggesting that mindfulness facilitates healthy aging.
The researchers asked participants about their mood, mindfulness, and perspective on the future to see how these factors might be related. The participants reported their current positive and negative emotions, such as enthusiasm, fear, interest, and hostility. They reflected on how much they were mindfully aware in the moment, rather than living in the past or anticipating the future. And participants considered whether they felt concerned about the limited time left in their life or positive about the opportunities awaiting them.
The older adults tended to recognize that they had fewer remaining years on earth than the younger participants, but they also felt greater positive emotion. And according to the researchers’ analysis, it was their focus on the here and now—their greater mindfulness compared to young people—that explained their good moods. The higher their mindfulness, the better they felt. Since being mindful could help us regulate our emotions and relieve stress, it could be useful for humans to naturally grow in mindfulness as we get older. This is significant because positive emotions can also lead to better physical health. However, implications of these findings for health and well-being in younger and older adults are still being discussed.