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.”