Boomers have an edge when it comes to hap­pi­ness, study says


Sorry, mil­len­ni­als. Now there’s some­thing else to re­sent about your baby boom el­ders: new re­search sug­gests they’re hap­pier than you, too.

A stag­ger­ing 74 per cent of Canada’s boomers (born be­tween 1947-63) are said to be happy al­most ev­ery day - “in com­plete op­ti­mal men­tal health” - com­pared with 68 per cent of those born be­tween 1982-97, ac­cord­ing to a sweep­ing study led by Univer­sity of Toronto so­cial work pro­fes­sor Esme Fuller-Thom­son.

“It turns out the ma­jor­ity of us are do­ing well, are happy al­most ev­ery day,” said Fuller-Thom­son, who set the bar high to mea­sure hap­pi­ness: “If you’re happy just once a week, you didn’t make my cut.”

Com­pared with mil­len­ni­als, she said, boomers are more likely to have fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, to be in a firmly es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ship, to be an­chored and less likely to be in flux, all of which helps. As for the in-be­tween Gen Xers, 71 per cent of them ranked as happy most days.

But the true se­cret to a happy, healthy state of mind, at any age? Hav­ing a con­fi­dante. “You’re 350 per cent more likely to be in ‘com­plete op­ti­mal men­tal health’ if you have some­one to con­fide in than if you don’t; some­one who’s there for you and pro­vides a sense of emo­tional se­cu­rity and well-be­ing,” said Fuller-Thom­son, who will dis­cuss her find­ings Wednes­day af­ter­noon at a fo­rum on Baby Boomers and the Mil­len­ni­als, pre­sented by the U of T’s In­sti­tute for Med­i­cal Sci­ence.

Mil­len­nial Kather­ine Sch­wenger thinks the re­search rings true. Born in 1989, the third-year stu­dent is help­ing to or­ga­nize the event.

“For me, there’s the added stress of tech­nol­ogy and so­cial me­dia, which can lead to un­hap­pi­ness. Tech­nol­ogy has pro­vided us with a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties, but has caused a lot more de­mand and ex­pec­ta­tion that we can al­ways be con­tacted. In to­day’s day and age, it’s re­ally hard to bal­ance work, life and on­line pres­ence, which of­ten over­lap.”

Fuller-Thom­son’s team sorted through data on more than 6,000 boomers from Sta­tis­tics Canada’s lat­est Cana­dian Com­mu­nity Health Sur­vey.

They found be­ing fe­male helps, and so does be­ing rich, be­ing mar­ried and in good phys­i­cal health. But your chances at hap­pi­ness fall with a his­tory of men­tal ill­ness, de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, al­co­hol or drug abuse.

But hav­ing a con­fi­dante is the men­tal health se­cret weapon.

“So­cial iso­la­tion is shat­ter­ing to your men­tal health. Not hav­ing so­cial re­la­tion­ships can be painful,” said Fuller-Thom­son, one of sev­eral pan­el­lists to present re­search at the Is­abel Bader The­atre.

“We’re so­cial be­ings, so be­ing iso­lated is hard on us. In a city with so many peo­ple, you’d think iso­la­tion wouldn’t be a prob­lem, but some peo­ple are hurt­ing and it’s im­por­tant to reach out to them.”

Tiff Mack­lem, dean of the U of T’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, will tackle the pres­sure on Canada’s mil­len­ni­als to foot the health-care bill for ag­ing boomers and sug­gest Cana­di­ans must con­sider a mix of pub­lic and pri­vate health care.

Psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor Joel Sa­davoy works with boomers aged 65 to 70 who are strug­gling to re­think their iden­tity in re­tire­ment and em­brace more of a sup­port­ing part than a lead­ing role.

“It can be a time of stress be­cause one of the key tasks of ag­ing is to ac­knowl­edge who we are and be able to move aside grace­fully and be­come more of a men­tor,” said Sa­davoy.

But he warned that boomers should not dis­en­gage en­tirely, “which can lead to so­cial iso­la­tion, which is not a good thing.The task of ag­ing is still to re­main en­gaged and in­volved.”

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