Positivity and Life at 50 Plus-SBU Scientist and Colleagues Find Patterns In Perceptions of Well-Being Across the Life Span


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    Reported in PNAS, the Study Surveys 340,000 U.S. Adults


    STONY BROOK, N.Y., May 18, 2010 – Arthur Stone, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Vice Chairman of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Stony Brook University and colleagues at Columbia University, Princeton University, and the Gallup Organization have produced a detailed analysis of how Americans perceive well-being at various ages. They found that after age 50, life perceptions are more positive and feelings of worry or stress decline. This perception is consistent after age 50, regardless of certain life circumstances. Their findings are reported in the Early Edition online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Titled “A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the US,” the study is based on a 2008 Gallup-Healthways telephone survey of more than 340,000 adults in the United States. The research findings confirm earlier reports that between the ages of 18 and 50, perceptions of global well-being tend to decline with age, while after age 50, perceptions become more positive as people grow older, creating a U-shaped curve when ratings are plotted by age.

    According to the researchers, the reasons for this pattern remain unknown. The analyses performed by Dr. Stone and colleagues indicate that changes in perception of well-being are not associated with having a partner, having children at home, or employment status.

    “The study is important because it compares patterns of response using two distinct methods for measuring well-being,” explains Dr. Stone, Lead Investigator. “One is a single measure of global well-being, as in how satisfied are you with your life, and the other a series of measures of positive and negative aspects of emotional well-being, as in how did you feel yesterday.”

    Dr. Stone and his colleagues report that the relationships between age and experiences of positive emotions (enjoyment and happiness) are similar to the relationship between age and the assessment of global well being, but that the relationships between age and the negative emotions of stress, worry, anger and sadness exhibit distinctly different patterns. Two of the negative emotions, stress and anger, showed declines throughout life. The pattern for another negative emotion, worry, showed a different pattern. It tended to hold steady until about age fifty, when it took a sharp decline.  Sadness showed a slightly inverted U-pattern over age.

    An understanding of the components of well-being and the dynamics of their alterations over time take on a new importance as the assessments of well-being becomes more prevalent in the evaluation of public policy. 

    The complete report is available at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/recent.
    The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stony Brook University is one of 25 academic departments within the SBU School of Medicine. The Department provides a number of high quality clinical programs and an array of government and pharmaceutical industry-sponsored research projects and clinical trials.