Happiness in the U.S. is like a fine wine – it ripens as it ages – at least according to a new study.
The national Well-Being Index from Gallup-Healthways, collecting feedback from nearly 180,000 people, found that those aged 55 and older expressed significantly higher rates of satisfaction and well-being than their younger counterparts.
Financial well-being drew the starkest contrast – 53 percent of older Americans report high rates of financial satisfaction, compared to just 33 percent of those under 55.
“Older Americans express satisfaction with their standard of living, worry less about money and say they have enough money to do what they want to do – all higher rates than those younger than 55,” sums up the Gallup-Healthways 2015 State Well-Being Rankings for Older Americans.
Overall, those 55 and up scored a 63.6 on the well-being ranking, which was three points higher than younger generations, according to the survey, which assessed five components of wellness – purpose and motivation, social health, community wellness, physical health and financial satisfaction.
More older Americans report having health insurance and a personal doctor, and “they eat more fresh produce, smoke less and have less worry and stress than their younger counterparts,” notes the study.
“The analysis of well-being across all age groups paints a powerful picture of the important link between the physical and social aspects of well-being, especially for older Americans,” noted Sheri Pruitt, Ph.D., a chief behavioral scientist with SilverSneakers Fitness who reviewed the study.
“Older Americans acknowledge the positive impact socialization and camaraderie play on their personal fitness,” added Pruitt.
That’s matched in the study results, which found that “purpose and social well-being are particularly strong across all aspects for older Americans, accelerating at age 60 and 65, respectively,” notes the report.
Divergent States of Well-Being
While older Americans generally reported higher rates of happiness and satisfaction, the researchers found significant divergence among different areas of the country.
For the second consecutive year, Hawaii retained its claim as the state with the greatest well-being among older residents. Overall, older Hawaiians reported a well-being score of 67.0 and took top honors in three of the five key elements – purpose, community and physical rank.
Rounding out the top 10 are Arizona, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Colorado, Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota. Arizona took the top spot in the individual social ranking, while people in North Dakota reported the most financial well-being.
“North Dakota recorded the largest positive movement in ranking since 2014, moving from the 31st position to the fourth,” notes the report.
At the opposite end of the rankings, West Virginia ranked lowest with a gross well-being score of 59.9 – more than seven points off the top spot. Behind West Virginia on the low-end of well-being are Kentucky, Oklahoma, Ohio, Indiana, Vermont, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas and New Jersey.
“New Mexico and Vermont had the largest year-over-year decline in well-being for older Americans, moving down 19 and 17 places, respectively,” says the report.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.