The study, which was conducted by Dr John Garry from Queen’s University, looked at young people’s attitudes to happiness in old age and how these attitudes affect their current health-related behaviour.
Dr Garry said: “We have all heard the saying ‘life begins at forty’. But it seems that many people, particularly young people, actually associate growing old with being miserable, meaning they don’t see any benefit in preserving their health for old age.
“Young people like to enjoy themselves, but this often means behaving in ways that can damage their future health. The harmful effects of alcohol, smoking and poor diet and fitness are well known, but many young people still binge-drink, smoke, avoid eating fruit and vegetables and fail to do regular exercise.
“This study aimed to find out whether this risky behaviour is associated with young people’s estimates of happiness in old age. Are they determined to ‘live it up’ while they are young because they are convinced that as they grow older they will become more and more miserable?
“The research found that, contrary to common belief, old age does not mean a decline in happiness - older people are just as happy as younger people. Whilst many young people associate old age with doom and gloom, this is not the case.
“We also found a strong link between the belief that happiness declines with age and levels of binge drinking by young men. It seems that these young men abuse their bodies through alcohol because, as they see it, there is little point in preserving their health for a miserable old age.
“Perhaps health professionals should consider this in their efforts to tackle binge drinking amongst young men. By addressing their incorrect perception that growing old is a miserable experience, they may be encouraged to drink more responsibly and take better care of their health.”
Archie and Margaret Lindsay, who are celebrating their 44th Valentine’s Day together, say they are perfectly happy in their old age. The couple attend the Newtownabbey Senior Citizens’ Forum. Mr Lindsay said: “I am surprised that so many young people think that getting older means being unhappy. My wife and I are both in our seventies and are as happy now as we were thirty years ago - and I think many of our friends would say the same. In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years!
“It’s important that young people realise that they can still enjoy life as they get older. As long as they make an effort to look after themselves, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t look forward to a happy and fulfilled old age.”
Professor Colin Harvey, Head of Queen’s School of Law, welcomed the research saying: “I hope this research report will go some way to challenging the negative attitudes to older people that are so prevalent in society today. This is another significant and welcome contribution to the debate from the Changing Ageing Partnership.”
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