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How to Find Happiness in the Second Half of Life

It’s never too early or too late to embark on the road to fulfillment.

Happy older woman
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Social scientists have long noted that many older adults report greater happiness levels than their younger counterparts. Studies have explored keys to this phenomenon,  such as a sense of purpose, financial stability, relationships and optimism. 

Now a new book, From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life,  social scientist and Harvard professor Arthur C. Brooks offers a roadmap to a sense of happiness that doesn’t happen by chance or luck, but that grows from deep personal work and careful intention.

Invest in Two Types of Intelligence
In an interview with NPR, Brooks highlights two types of intelligence that both appear to be crucial to happiness later in life. Fluid intelligence is our problem-solving ability, our ability to think creatively and figure complex things out. Crystalized intelligence might be described as “wisdom,” the library of knowledge and experience that we’ve each compiled in our lives. Crystalized intelligence increases in the second half of life, and though we can and should keep our fluid intelligence skills as sharp as possible, we are more likely to be happy when we feel confident in the gifts of our accumulated wisdom.

Let Flexibility Be Your Watchword
We free ourselves to experience greater happiness, according to Brooks, when we let go of the idea that we will be the same, with the same strengths, interests and priorities, throughout our lives. “Your abilities are going to change,” he told NPR, “Your views are going to change. The things you care about [are] going to change, and that’s good and that’s healthy. And that kind of flexibility is key.” Embracing flexibility as a leading value gives us new opportunities to connect with passions, skills and relationships that are meaningful to us in the here and now—and let go of the rest.

Do the Work Now, Whenever “Now” Is in Your Life
Brooks emphasizes that it’s never too early or too late to invest in your future happiness. He reports this from his own experience—he spent the quiet days of the pandemic writing the book as well as creating a “strategic plan” for the rest of his life. He says, “The point of the work that I’m doing as a social scientist is to not leave your happiness up to chance but to remarkably increase the odds by doing the work at 25 and 45 and 65 so that by the time you’re 75 and 85 and beyond, you’re happier than you’ve ever been.” You might find that even by taking the time to think about what intention you want to set for the years ahead, you feel a surge of optimism that can begin to steer you in a happier direction.

What do you think brings happiness in the second half of life?

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