The secret to getting happier with age is learning acceptance, research suggests.
Part of acceptance is learning to engage with negative emotions, which might seem an odd way of reducing them.
However, older people experienced less anger and negative emotions, the study found.
At the same time, they also showed increase levels of acceptance.
Acceptance, is not about giving up, but about engaging with emotions, both positive and negative.
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As the study’s authors explain the…
“…goal of acceptance is not to reduce negative affect but rather to change one’s relationship with negative affect by engaging with all emotional experiences (including negative ones) in a nonjudgmental way.”
The conclusions come from a study of 340 people aged 21-73 years-old.
All were asked how they felt day-by-day and the extent to which they accepted their emotions.
The study’s authors write:
“Although aging is associated with some deterioration and hardship, ironically, people tend to feel better as they age.[…]
Results demonstrated that feelings of anger and anxiety decreased with increasing age but sadness did not.
Further, increasing age was associated with increased acceptance of negative emotional experiences.”
How does acceptance work?
The study’s author explain how engaging with negative emotions can be beneficial:
“Acceptance is thought to decrease negative affect by two related processes: (a) presenting opportunities to acknowledge and understand negative emotions,
which promotes self-compassion as well as psychological and behavioral flexibility, and (b) reducing rumination, negative cognitions, and metaemotions.
Although engaging with negative emotions may initially increase one’s self-reported experience of these emotions approaching negative emotions in a
nonevaluative way diffuses these emotions relatively quickly.”
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The study was published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Shallcross et al., 2013).