The Good News: We get happier. A recent AARP survey showed that from your early 50s on, happiness rises significantly over time. One explanation for the trend: years of experience. "As you get older, you know that bad times are going to pass," says Laura Carstensen, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. "You also know that good times will pass, which makes those good times even more precious. There's an emotional savoring that comes with age."
The Not-So-Good News: You might stay away from stressful situations, thereby missing out on new opportunities. "Older people are better at anticipating difficult situations and managing their life so they don't expose themselves to unnecessary stress," says Bob Knight, Ph.D., professor of gerontology and psychology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles. While that may be good for their emotional health, it may also narrow their social networks, "limiting them to people who are more supportive."
What's Up With That? Are you worried that you're not as worried these days? "The ability to regulate one's emotions improves as you get older," says Knight. That means situations that might once have tied you up in knots no longer bother you as much. No wonder less than 5 percent of those ages 45 to 64 can expect to experience major depression.
What's Ahead: People in their 60s and 70s get progressively happier and more satisfied with their lives, according to AARP's happiness research. While 18 percent of those 61 to 65 rate themselves very happy, a full 24 percent of people 66 to 70 say the same. Studies also suggest that emotions like anger and sadness become less frequent with age, perhaps because older adults get better at tuning out negativity.
The Good News: The growth of new brain cells continues well into your 50s and 60s — and the capacity to learn new things stays strong.
The Not-So-Good News: With age comes a delay in accessing memories, but memory loss — once thought intrinsic to aging — is often avoidable, according to new research. Case in point: MRIs show that adults who exercise regularly have a bigger hippocampus (the brain region responsible for memory and learning), which helps keep the mind sharp.
What's Up With That? So you find yourself in the kitchen with no idea why you're there. Relax. In your 50s, mild forgetfulness happens because the transmission of nerve impulses between cells slows down slightly. It's rarely a sign of something serious — unless it happens every day or you never recall what you needed from the kitchen.
What's Ahead: Real cognitive decline becomes more prevalent in your 60s, and especially in your 70s and 80s. Your best prevention plan: regular exercise, intellectual stimulation and an active social life.