Getting Older? One Reason It Might Make You Happier

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Linda Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Have you ever asked a stranger to watch your bags for a minute in a crowded airport or train station? I know some people who would do this with hardly a thought, and others who would never take that risk. But here’s something unexpected that I recently learned: the older we get, the more likely we are to place this kind of trust in others.

The Positives of Getting Older

Some people think of aging as a largely negative process. It’s true that getting older can result in a gradual loss of physical or mental abilities. However, research suggests that there are bright sides to aging as well. For instance, various studies show that older people are, in general, more agreeable, less stressed, less anxious, and more positive about life than younger adults.

Trust Increases as We Age

And in a very large and international study recently published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, older people generally proved to be more trusting than those who were younger. What’s more, being more trusting was associated with higher well-being.

Effect True Around The World

The study had two parts. In the first, almost 200,000 people between the ages of 14 and 99 from 83 countries were asked which one was “more true”: that “most people can be trusted” or that “one can’t be too careful.” They also were asked how much trust they placed in various groups of people, such as strangers, neighbors, and people of different religions.

Across the world, trust was higher in people the older they were. For instance, less than a quarter of 20-year-olds agreed that most people could be trusted–yet over a third of 80-year-olds believed this to be true. Interestingly, this gap between the ages has been widening over the decades—that is, older people today are more trusting and younger people are less so than they were a few generations ago. In a similar study of about 2000 people in the US only, trust also increased in people over time.

Trust Has Positive Effects

But wait a minute, you might be thinking. Maybe all this trust by older adults puts them at risk of being swindled or cheated. Although it’s true that older people are generally at higher risk of fraud, the international research discussed here found that older adults’ higher trust levels were linked to higher levels of overall well-being, and there was no evidence that they were more susceptible to fraud. In other words, trusting others seems to be good for us. And in the US study, this went both ways—that is, well-being increased trust, and trust increased well-being.

With about 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 years old every day, the percentage of the population over age 65 in the US and many other countries is due to increase significantly in coming decades. It’s interesting to think that this older society may be a more trusting one—and perhaps a happier one as well.

(Photo credit: Coffee for one by David Hodgson. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)


Poulin, M.J., & Haase, C. M. (2015). Growing to trust: Evidence that trust increases and sustains well-being across the life span. Social Pyschological and Personality Science. Advance online publication.


Posted: April 6, 2015

Category: Relationships & Family, Work & Life
Tags: Health And Wellness, Healthy Aging, Mental Health

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