In the world today, happiness can be elusive. There are injustices, wars, need, greed, divisiveness, and more at play on a global scale. And that doesn’t even begin to touch the struggles of daily life. While all of these issues affect women and men, it seems to impact women more. In fact, one of the best documented gender gaps is the mood disorder — depression. Women are about twice as likely as men to develop major depression.
However, a new study finds that many women get happier in later life, particularly in the years between 50 and 70. The study, believed to be one of the first of its kind, measured “Qualities of happiness” which included optimism, self-esteem, social support, social interest, freedom, energy, cheerfulness, and thought clarity. University of Melbourne researchers also found that both negative mood and depressive symptoms decreased significantly over that time.
Study author and psychologist Katherine Campbell says the findings suggest that mood improves as women transition from midlife to late-life. “The women in this study reported feeling more patient, less tense, and they tended to be less withdrawn as they entered their sixties,” she says.
“Women feel more in control of their lives and are still physically capable of enjoying their hobbies and traveling. They are often more financially stable and have less responsibility for children. They are free to enjoy the fruits of their hard work and are able to prioritize their own needs and wants.”
That’s great news because happiness is important, not only because it feels good, but also because it’s actually good for you. According to study published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, women who have a positive outlook, or are happy, have a much lower risk of dying from serious illnesses, especially cardiovascular diseases. The study finds that a higher degree of optimism coincided with a lower mortality risk from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection.
For those women who have not necessarily hit their “Golden Years” of happiness, or are off to a slow start, there are several things Martin P. Seligman says you can do to make happiness your default setting. First, he suggests that we learn to be miserable or happy internally, not through material or external rewards, but by building good character. The rewards are not extrinsic but intrinsic, stemming from inner satisfaction rather than satisfaction from the outer world. Seligman’s school has identified 24 character strengths that we can develop to guide us to happiness in our lives. Their study of over 5,000 men and women revealed four core traits that were most important. They called these “heart strengths”: gratitude, hope, zest and the ability to love and be loved. Put simply: “Relationships with other people are what makes us the happiest.”
In addition to working on creating or improving our relationships, we can also work to embrace a “path” to happiness. Seligman suggests:
- The “pleasant life” path involves finding activities and things that give you pleasure. You enjoy lots of fun, good times and play.
- The “engaged life” path allows you to lose yourself in some passion or activity. You look up and the time has flown. That is joy.
- The “meaningful life” path requires having a purpose in your life. Giving of yourself as a volunteer provides a reason to get up each day. You’re doing more than just taking up space and oxygen.
Choosing a path and working towards happiness not only makes a difference in our health, it can make a difference in how we relate to ourselves and others. My Leading Women co-author Kristin Andress writes that, “When you focus on mastering your mind, and thus your perceptions and perspective, you discover different paths in the landscape of your possibilities.”
Framing and reframing your experiences can prevent you from slipping into a state of anxiety or depression. The ability to catch yourself when you get that sinking feeling lies in being aware that it is happening, and choosing to pause and select a new perspective. This is much more than seeing the glass half full or making lemons into lemonade. It is a matter of deciding how you will integrate your way of “being” into your life and lifestyle. The power to reflect on your perspective and reframe it gives you an opening to see the world, other people, and yourself in different ways. Typically, it is also a much more peaceful and satisfying way to live.
As negative stories continue to dominate the news and genuine happiness seems to become the exception, not the rule, it really is the perfect time to take control of our power and perception, learn to master optimism, and create happier, healthier lives. We can also reach out and connect with other women and help them find a way to take control of their lives and find happiness in the everyday too. We are all sisters; when we connect we not only become happier people, we truly can change the world!