John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Ever have one of those birthdays where you received the classic “old geezer” treatment? You know, the black balloons, sympathy cards, tombstone-shaped birthday cake, adult diapers and other assorted gag gifts?

If you are at or past a certain age, you may have. The shtick is all in good fun. But there’s no getting around the implied dark message: Your best years have passed.

To be fair, it’s not difficult to see why so many aging boomers get treated to this kind of “celebration.” From our early 20s on, most of us begin to notice a slow but steady erosion of our physical and cognitive capabilities. But does that mean misery also will be a traveling companion on the road ahead? A new survey of people in Southern California finds that just the opposite may be the case.

For the investigation, researchers examined three kinds of health across the ages: physical, cognitive and mental. To their surprise, they discovered older people generally enjoy better mental health than their younger counterparts.

In fact, adults in their 20s and 30s scored lowest in terms of psychological well being.

And although aging may bring physical and mental atrophy, it appears to compensate with increased happiness, more satisfaction with life and a heightened sense of well-being, said Dilip Jeste, M.D., the study’s lead author.

Jeste, who also is director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego, noted that older age also was associated with reduced levels of anxiety, stress and depression risk. Full findings appear in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

So maybe it’s time to start sending those dark birthday gifts to people who can actually use them: Millennials.

Yes, I may be past my prime and slowing down a bit. But I’m also on a path to greater happiness and wisdom. Can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m more than fine with that tradeoff.

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living. Email him at [email protected].