Is longevity the curse of happiness?
May 15, 2008 1:50 AM   Subscribe

Know any happy 80-year-olds?

An 85 year old friend, who is still a practicing artist, told us she wouldn't wish anyone to live as long as she has. We were startled, and very sad.

My wife and I (mid-lifers) were surprised to become aware that nearly all the folks we know or have known over the age of 80 are/were quite unhappy. Each is unique and pleasant to be with, have different backgrounds, different types of families, different financials, but almost all are deeply unhappy with their quality of life (and degrading health of course, which may be the overall theme of this question).
It seems a rather ominous fate to look forward to.

Tell me about some truly happy octogenarians you personally know.
posted by artdrectr to Society & Culture (49 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
My grandma is nearly 91. I'm sure she's unhappy with some aspects of her life but as far as I can tell she's generally happy. She just sent me an email the other day. She says she's going to live to be at least 100.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:08 AM on May 15, 2008

Both of my parents are over 80. Mom is quite limited with health issues and pain. She is frequently depressed as a result. However my father is nearly as spry as he was 20 years ago. He is active in local charities (Meals on Wheels, Habitat), on the boards of two companies, a grand master bridge player, and still hits the golf links. He loves life and life loves him. They are both moving to assisted living this summer, primarily because of Mom's limitations. Hopefully it won't bring him down.
posted by netbros at 2:40 AM on May 15, 2008

Perhaps health is the common factor, not age. My great-grandfather was one of the happiest people I've ever known, up until he died at 106. Of course, up until 104 or so, he would wake up at 6am and walk several miles, out of joy more than anything else. My grandfather, his son, is still alive at 96 and loves to dance.

Or maybe a sense of optimisim. My great-grandfather when he started having trouble getting around (at like 105) announced to everybody: "I think I need someone to take care of me. Its about time I got married again! I think I'm going to start looking for a wife!"
posted by vacapinta at 2:43 AM on May 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

Quickly a brief anecdote about my dad. He has always wanted to raft the Colorado River. So last summer he booked a trip for himself, my bother, and me (an 80 year old and two 50 somethings). We traversed some class 6 rapids in Grand Canyon West(self link). He was whooping and hollering and getting soaked wet from 45 degree river water just like the teens were. At the end of the raft trip we rode helicopters back up to the rim level. When we got back up top he said, "Wow, can we do that again?"

Believe it or not, this summer he plans to go tandem sky diving. Go figure.
posted by netbros at 2:50 AM on May 15, 2008

I wouldn't say my gran (81) is overjoyed with life, but she's very content. Having survived through the Japanese occupation, the Korean war (with my mom in her belly and my aunt on her back) not much brings her down. She was very sad when my grandfather died 5 years ago, but staunchly refused to live with any of her four children, who all begged her to come live with them. Yes, she' beloved by all, down to the second and third generation. She said all her friends are in her neighborhood, and it's close to her temple, and while she can still walk around she would like to live independently. She's worries about others, but she's always ready with a laugh when every I talk to her. Which reminds me, I should call her.
posted by slyrabbit at 2:56 AM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

My mom is 82, and has survived colon cancer and the loss of her spouse after being married for 40+ years. She attends church every day, walking to and from services. She cooks for shut-ins (Aid For Friends) and volunteers at the library of the elementary school associated with her church. She's very happy.
posted by fixedgear at 3:04 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandparents are in their mid-eighties and they are wonderfully happy and celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this year! They're amazing and I only hope that I can emulate them when I get older. I think their happiness can mainly be attributed to them keeping an active interest in doing things that they enjoy and their generosity and willingness to make new friends.

My grandfather is really into early music recordings and early radio. He hunts down old cylinders from the turn of the 20th century and uses computer software to digitize them and clean up the sound. He's amassed a huge collection. He also has done lots of genealogy work relating to our family but seriously enough that he's contributed a couple of articles to some specialist books. He tries to exercise a fair bit too, generally going for a long walk every day. He's also really into computers and surfing the net in general and even my grandmother uses the internet too! My grandmother's specialities are cooking (absolutely to die for) and Japanese brush painting. She took courses years ago and has honed her technique enough that she exhibits and sells her beautiful paintings in shows and has had artwork featured in books.

In addition to this zest for life and keeping their minds active, they also are some of the nicest, most generous people I've ever known. They are very active at their church and are always making new friends, taking young new immigrant members under their wings to help them adjust to life in Canada. I'm scarcely ever over at their house without someone dropping by say hi or giving them some baked good, and they're always eager to tell us kids about how much they worship our grandparents.

I believe my grandmother suffers a fair bit of pain but she never lets it show, never complains, and never lets it get her down. My grandparents are devoted to each other and I admire them more than I can say. I think that they've gotten the recipe for happiness down pretty well.
posted by Kirjava at 3:21 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandmother lived to be 82, and she was completely independent, driving and working until shortly before she died. She often said that she was tired of living, but I think that was loneliness; she outlived two children, her husband, her best friends, and her sisters. But she was lots of fun to be around. She was sassy and witty and loved random trips to the beach or a bar or an art market.

My friend Jody is 79 and travels the world about three times a year: the great wall of China, carnival in Rio, canoing in Canada, hiking in Peru. She also has a live-in boyfriend and a part-time job.

My boyfriend's grandmother is 86 and still quite lively and very happy. She is active with the Democratic party, she gardens regularly, she loves to cook and entertain. I think that a lot of it is health; she and Jody are quite healthy and (mostly) pain-free, as was my grandmother.
posted by cachondeo45 at 3:31 AM on May 15, 2008

My great-uncle is in his mid-eighties. He hasn't changed at all in the 30 years I've known him. He is a retired GP, but he smokes a pipe, refuses all blood pressure and cholesterol meds, and leads a thoroughly active life. This weekend we're going fly fishing with my father and my uncle. Three generations all up to our waists in the river with a fly rod, all doing what still makes us happy.
posted by roofus at 3:43 AM on May 15, 2008

There's a guy who plays baritone in my community band who's 92. It might only be the music aspect, but boy is he happy to be playing.
posted by plinth at 3:47 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandpa is 95, lives in a nursing home, and has no teeth. He's very happy. My grandma on the other side just moved into assisted living at 85, and although she was having some anxiety, a little zoloft has really helped her. She's very happy-- she loves the new place, and there are lots of ladies to play bridge with.
posted by miss tea at 3:48 AM on May 15, 2008

My Grandma Agnes was 94 when she died.
A farmer's wife, a hard worker.
She cooked and cleaned and read to youngsters (70-year-olds) at the local Senior Center. She was vital and deeply content and laughed more than anyone I've ever met.
She told me to keep in mind three things:
Staying busy helping others.
Abiding religious faith.
Regular review of memories and blessings.
I wish I could do that.
posted by Dizzy at 4:04 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

My grandparents are close to ninety and very content. They're hardcore Catholics, so they're constantly doing things for the church like delivering communion to nursing home residents, writing the church bulletin, doing pre-marriage counseling, and getting involved in other activities. Their only problem is that their washer and dryer are in the basement, and they can no longer carry the basket up all the stairs. So they tied a rope around the basket, leave it at the foot of the stairs, climb up, and then haul the basket up via the rope. My mom is trying to convince them to install a washer and dryer upstairs, but they're stubborn.

My grandma is coming home today after knee replacement surgery. She felt her knee was holding her back. I hope I'm like her when I'm in my 80s.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:06 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandmother was a happy woman and lived into her 80s. Her motto?

If you don't have fun, it's your own fault.

She could use that line for the littlest things (going out to dinner) or the biggest (starting her life over after losing her husband of 55 years). She moved into a community where she made friends with other fun, energetic woman, did things she'd never had a chance to, and had a blast. She's an inspiration.
posted by bassjump at 4:52 AM on May 15, 2008 [12 favorites]

I have also known folks in their 80s and beyond who are quite happy. All this is anecdotal, however. Only one person in the examples above is mentioned as being in a nursing home. I suspect, however, that the general population of the spectrum of senior living from "independent living" through nursing homes is on the average much less happy than those who are still in their own homes. The move from home to "living" quarters reminds them rather strongly that at some point they will no longer be "living", and this is where it starts. As well, the closer quarters require lifestyle changes, and complainers get reinforcement.
posted by beagle at 5:12 AM on May 15, 2008

I think it depends on two things, health and general disposition. A person in constant pain is not going to have a great quality of life and a lifelong pessimist will not suddenly become a happy engaged person.
I know that I have longevity as a genetic gift so my job now, in my late forties, is to preserve my mobility and general health so I don't become a belly-aching geezerette.

Anecdotally, I have mostly happy elderly relatives living well into their eighties and nineties and one unhappy grandmother whose final years in her nineties were a trial to her and those around her. She had always been a fault finder, and as life goes on, there is a lot to find to complain about.
posted by readery at 5:41 AM on May 15, 2008

My Mom is 80 and a few years ago started singing professionally. She currently sings in wine bars, etc. and loves it. She's in great health and although she has a few financial concerns and dearly misses her husband (my stepfather) who passed away 5 years ago, she's pretty happy.
posted by gfrobe at 5:45 AM on May 15, 2008

My father, a minister, deals regularly with folks in their 80's, 90's and more. He often states the motto that "80 is a blessing, 90 is a curse."
posted by Pollomacho at 5:49 AM on May 15, 2008

I have a a very happy 84-year-old coworker. She drives to and from work every day, works 10 hour days and comes in every Saturday. She's an accountant, and still sharp as a tack. She's happy, healthy, has a slightly naughty sense of humor, and dresses better than most of the younger people in our firm. Outside of work, she's very involved in her church and the lives of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
posted by boomchicka at 5:59 AM on May 15, 2008

Hugh Hefner! I think he's 82.
posted by nkknkk at 6:05 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

i don't know anyone in their 80s, so i may not have the best perspective. but, it seems to me that the people (in general) who are most unhappy as they get older are the ones who have outlived everyone they knew or loved, or who were always unhappy and complain-y, or who have life-limiting health concerns that keep them from doing the things they enjoy. i think these three characteristics would make almost anyone unhappy, but things 1 and 3 are more likely to happen as you get older.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:15 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandmother's 89, and really quite surprisingly content. She lived through world war 2 in the former soviet union, had her family scattered and reunited, outlived two husbands, immigrated in her 70s, has a mentally ill daughter, bouts with cancer, and a recent hip replacement... And she's usually upbeat, active, socializes often with other seniors and is always calling and writing back and forth with other family members. It's definitely a personality thing - she is not, perhaps, the deepest thinker, but she lets things roll off her back with enviable ease.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 6:27 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandma, 82, is the happiest person I know. You wouldn't expect her to be, given the life she has had. Originally from Wales, she married a Canadian soldier after the 2nd world war and moved to a small village in Southern Ontario without knowing a soul.

She raised 5 kids in near-poverty, and her husband was an alcoholic who just became meaner and more abusive over the years, threatening to kill the whole family and later shot himself.

She learned to drive, at her husband's and older sons' ridicule, and always worked hard to bring in extra money.

In her old age, I think she's enjoyed more freedom and independence than she ever had in her earlier life. She loves her family, has loads of friends, and works out at the gym 3 times a week. She is a lifelong learner and will try anything. She just finished a job as someone who demonstrates new products in grocery stores, to bring in some extra money.

She emails me regularly, and her emails are hilarious. She has no fear of new technology, and if something isn't working she is determined to figure out how to fix it. She is a wizard with any sort of little home repairs, furniture refinishing, and is the ultimate recycler, bringing scrap metal and pop cans to the junkyard for cash, and always thinking of her family first, even it if means she has a garageful of junk ("I got this vacuum cleaner for when Hilary moves into her apartment")

She goes to church, but doesn't really believe in a God, I think she goes there for the social aspect. She says "I don't know if I believe in God, but I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself"

She had a best friend who was a bit older and they would gallavant around town, go on adventures together, but now her friend is in a nursing home. I feel bad that she has seemed relatively ageless and her friends are dying and growing sick more and more each year.

I rely on her for sage advice, optimism, and great conversation. She is one of the most important people in my life and I don't know what I will do when she's gone. I am going away for a working year in New Zealand, and leaving her will be the hardest part. I am going to get her set up with a webcam first though ;)

Growing old is not for the faint of heart. It is a nasty process. But there are lots of examples for inspiration.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 6:31 AM on May 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

My husband's grandmother is 86 and seems to be happy. She lives in a retirement community apartment complex where there are organized activities (movie night, crafts, potlucks, cards). She's very, very social and talks to her friends on the phone all the time. She is also very involved with her church and is on several different committees.

My husband's great uncle and aunt are 80 and regularly enjoy taking trips on their motorcycle. They live in Kansas and frequently bike up to Colorado and Nebraska to visit family. It always makes me happy to see their windswept, exhilirated faces when I arrive at a family gathering.

I think the secret to being happy at any time of life is to keep moving, keep interacting with people you like and to keep participating in activities you enjoy on a frequent basis.
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:38 AM on May 15, 2008

Both of my grandmothers are alive and around 90.

My dad’s mother is not so happy – the last quarter of her life was mostly devoted to her husband who slowly withered away from Alzheimers, and finally mercifully passed away a few years back. With her body starting to fail her and without a strong center for her life she can be pretty down some days. She does not have much independence and I think this weighs heavily on her. She has had a varied and interesting life, but memories aren’t enough. I think it also weighs heavily on her that it’s increasingly hard to articulate her thoughts.

Her sister was a spectacular presence into her 80s, but also prone to depression. She made the most of her up times, hanging out with younger people, getting bold tattoos and generally making sure people aroudn her understood that old was not dead.

My mother’s mother, OTOH, is doing just fine thanks. She still has her own home, her garden and her independence. She split with my grandfather before his death, which was over thirty years ago, so she has had a lot of time to develop a center to her life. I would also add, though, that in the last few years she has great success with modern pain killers allowing her to focus on other things.
posted by KS at 7:02 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandmother lived to 90 and was miserable - failing hearing, then sight, then mobility, lost her husband, independence and most of her friends and found it hard to have meaningful contact with family. We had a party for her 90th and she said 'I don't want to be 90 - I want to be 70 again'. She had had lots of interests - art and badminton being the main ones - but she was unable to pursue them.

I have a friend, on the other hand, who is 93 and loving life - regularly goes to exhibitions and concerts, has lots of friends and contact with her four sons, a few health problems but she bounces back from them with ease. She also still plays the violin twice a week, goes to language classes and walks every day. She is not religious.

From these anecdotal examples, I conclude that it's mostly about luck - if you have lots of interests and are fortunate enough that your health permits you to continue with them, old age can be a pleasure. I imagine looking after one's health earlier on will help with this.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:05 AM on May 15, 2008

My dad just turned 80 and has a multitude health issues. Colon cancer, hernia, bad knee/surgery and well as many other less serious ailments. He still works 30+ hours a week, is on the board of directors for a few local organizations AND travels extensively. He is very 'Happy' and I'd be surprised if he doesn't have 10 more years left. I would also be surprised if he doesn't outlive his 60 year old wife.
posted by tickettrader at 7:14 AM on May 15, 2008

My great-aunt is 82 or so - I can't remember exactly - and she's the perkiest, most cheerful person I've ever met. The kind who talks to the eggs while she's cooking them. "Eggs, eggs, I'm cooking you eggs, [five sentences in Estonian in which I can pick out at least one curse word] oh I almost forgot to put the spice on you eggs!" When she was young she probably talked to the cows while she was milking them.

She's healthy and independent, which I think helps a lot. She's got a group of 'girlfriends' at the retiree-trailer-park; they get together at least once a week to play cards or do a potluck or eat out at a restaurant. She keeps in close contact with our family, and she travels a lot to visit them - mostly to New York or Estonia. She's got more frequent-flyer miles than anyone I know.

And yet... she's starting to decline. Vacuuming the house tires her out when it never did before, and this makes her sad, because she prizes her independence and doesn't want to lose it. At the same time, she understands that it's pretty remarkable for a person her age to do the things she does, and she's had one hell of an interesting life, so there aren't any regrets on that end.

(She always says to me: "Don't you get married. What's a man good for? Nothing! You can hire a man when things break, and when he's done fixing them he leaves! You don't have to keep him and feed him!")

My grandmother, too, was a tough old broad with an independent streak a mile wide. What I mean by this is, when she moved from New York to Florida, she refused to get a driver's license, and thought nothing of waiting hours in the blazing sun for buses. I can't do that! She wasn't as naturally cheerful as my great-aunt - just a difference in personality - but she'd seen bad times and good times, and she knew that the last sixteen years of her life (the first sixteen of mine) were good times. She was content with what she had, and what she'd done, and who she was.

We should all be so lucky.
posted by cmyk at 7:19 AM on May 15, 2008

My wife's granddad was like this. He died in January after a stroke, in his mid-eighties. What was he doing the night of his stroke? Telling silly stories to a houseful of dinner guests. This has changed how I see the phrase "died laughing"; now I hope to.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:31 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandmother is in her eighties. My grandfather is in his nineties. They have anxieties about their health, and my grandmother is a worrier. There are things that make them sad. However, on the whole, I get the feeling they are happy. They're happiest when people come to visit, even if they do end up napping in mid-afternoon in their chairs while we read or take the dog for a walk.
Why I think they're generally happy:
1) They have each other. This is the second marriage for both of them, and they've been together 15 years (or so). They do things together, even if its just a quick trip to Tim Hortons' for coffee, or a big deal bus trip to a play in another town.
2) They still have their independance. My grandfather gets his driver's test every year, and is continuing to pass. They mostly drive in town now, and only during the day, but they can still get out and go to Tim's or the grocery store or down to the beach to watch the ships come in without having to wait for someone else.
3) They have very supportive neighbours. They have their lawn cut for them, they have visitors, they watch the kids play, and they are able to do things (like take in the newspaper or watch the house) for their neighbours too. They have friends in town, and family that visits often (my aunt & uncle live in town and come by several times a week). In other words - they are not isolated, but surrounded by people they care about and who care about them, from casual acquantinces on the street to deep family bonds.
4) They have a dog. He keeps them from sitting around all day and gives them a reason to get out and get moving even on days they might otherwise not.

Like I said, they aren't happy 100%. But on the whole they are pretty happy & content.
posted by sandraregina at 7:33 AM on May 15, 2008

There was a very old man at the post office the other day, chatting it up with EVERYBODY. We were in line for a long time and he started telling me stories. He was talking about how he read (on the internet) that the price of stamps were going up. He then equated that with different letters he remembered sending to people over the years, and what the stamps cost then. And of course, email is free, but not the same. He ended by saying that he had to get back to prison, up the road. I asked him how his cage was, and he said that he liked it (and he was being serious now). He walked off and I think we allll felt like we knew him personally. And he was definitely happy.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:45 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Three of my grandparents lived past the age of 80 (the one exception was my paternal grandmother, who had breast cancer). All of them made it past the age of 80 and stayed active, quick-witted, and happy to be there.

My paternal grandfather lived to the age of 88; when he was 83, he had two major surgeries one on top of the other (he had appendicitis first, and while they were keeping him in the hospital for observation after the surgery, he developed a heart arhythmia and they needed to operate again to give him a pacemaker), and spent the two ensuing weeks in the hospital pulling pranks on the nurses. His memory and cognition did deteriorate over the next 5 years, but he ended his days content, living at home and being tended to by my father and a neighbor.

My maternal grandmother had one heck of a last day on earth -- she was in Arizona, at the apartment where my grandparents spent their winters; the weather had been a little rainy, so she'd hit upon the idea to do laps on their front porch for her daily walk and was pleased at her own ingenuity; and that evening she finally broke my grandfather's two-week winning streak in their evening cribbage matches. She went to sleep that night after bidding him "Je t'aime," had a stroke in her sleep and never woke up. She was 82.

My maternal grandfather lived to the age of 93; he was at least content in his later years, but did miss Grandma terribly after she died. He talked a lot about being ready to see her again during his last few weeks, so we know he had that heartache. But -- he nevertheless have enough spunk to also joke about how he was considering having an affair with one of his nurses. Before Grandma died, however, he was just as active as she.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandma is 84 and she is NOT happy. Stems from not having enough money though...
posted by saxamo at 8:35 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandma is 104, still living at home, and still having a good time. Her most recent letter to me was about a nest of baby robins on the side of her house.

She's been having less fun in the last few years since she can only see in small areas in her field of view so she can't read, her ears are so bad her hearing aids are no longer sufficient to conduct a phone call, and most feeling has left her fingers. And the screw in her hip surgery has backed out and causes constant pain, but she's too old to be operated on now.

But. She has always made the point to me that everyone has to deal with the usual setbacks in life and no one wants to hear an old person complaining about their problems. She has gone through a few waves of meeting new, "young" friends only to have them get infirm, whiny, and dead over twenty or forty years. So she doesn't dwell on the slings and arrows outrageous fortune sends her, and is alert, cogent, interesting, and fun to be with.

My grandma rocks. YGMV.
posted by lothar at 8:37 AM on May 15, 2008

I perform psychometric evaluations of older folks as a part of my job, and I've tested quite a few people who are over the age of 80. Some seem depressed, some seem kind of middle of the road, and some are extremely happy to be alive. It seems like pretty much the same distribution as with people my own age, though I'll readily admit that I'm always a lot more stoked to meet an overly positive old person than an excessively happy young person. I'm not sure why.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:52 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I read today that British Jazz artists - and long married couple Cleo Laine and John Dankworth are both 80 this year and are in the midst of celebrating with a world tour. I don't know if this means they are intrinsically happy but it would seem to be a sign that they are loved and keeping busy.
posted by rongorongo at 9:11 AM on May 15, 2008

My cousin's grandmother is 98, confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, and still has a zest for life. She loves chatting with her various visitors and keeping up with the latest happenings. I think it's all depends on a person's attitude.
posted by bluekrauss at 9:23 AM on May 15, 2008

When I've met her, Granny D seemed awfully happy. I think for people like her, staying driven is what does it.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2008

I don't know if it's age or what - but these times are stressful for anyone. But say someone is in their 80's. They're living their biology, and what they've inputted for so many years. The food, the emotions, the relationships, the air and the water. All these factors will show up - physically and psychically - for better or for worse. State of mind is the result of one's belief system - if you believe old age will be horrific, depressing and basically will render you helpless - then that will be your reality. Same for one's belief being that one's old age are the golden years and NOTHING will get you down and depressed. So ultimately - while I don't know anyone in their 80's who is happy - that's probably because I don't know many 80 year olds. But are they out there - oh yeah. I can guarantee you that they exist. In all places, all over the globe and from every culture. I seem to recall an article somewhere that stated that the secret to longevity and being content was hard work, loving and eating right. And there are definitely people out there who are doing just that. And living life to its fullest. Way to go to them.
posted by watercarrier at 9:36 AM on May 15, 2008

Both of my paternal grandparents lived to be 99. My grandfather seemed to be quite happy and amused with life--one of the last times I saw him he was very animatedly telling a story about how his pants accidentally fell down at a party in the nursing home. My grandmother, on the other hand, was deeply unhappy, constantly complaining, and very unpleasant to be around. She had always been a negative person and I think she also suffered a lot of pain, which my grandfather did not. I know from personal experience that it is hard to be happy when you're in chronic pain, so I'm sure that's a big factor for everyone, but also people carry their basic personalities into old age. I frequently work professionally with the elderly and once you account for chronic pain, I think I see the same range of levels of happiness that I do in younger people.
posted by HotToddy at 10:00 AM on May 15, 2008

My great-grandma lived to be 98. She and my great-grandpa lived together on their own until he passed away at 86 (emphesema), and then she moved in with her daughter and her husband until she was around 96 and started to get a bit senile (typical leaving the stove on type of stuff, and once started a small fire; fortunately while my great-uncle was home to put it out), and was moved into an assisted living center. She tried multiple times to escape, and even did once (at 97), and got a Taxi to take her to my great-aunt's place.

I only saw her at thanks givings, but while the family was shooting the shit, and she was playing sheepshead and nursing a beer, she wasn't full of complaints. She really enjoyed talking with young me about her adventures growing up (one room school house, where the teacher was once chased by an angry axe-wielding student). I remember a number of times that she used the phrase "If you're lucky enough to be my age." I was young, so I didn't outright ask her if she was happy to be so old, but I think she was. She was interested in how I was doing in life, and asked about what I wanted to be in the future - she wasn't living only in the past, and had fun one Thanksgiving playing my "Double Dragon" hand held LCD game.

Well, up until she was moved into the assissted living center. And then I think it was her mostly being unhappy/frustrated at being senile, while not being able to recognize her senility or potential danger. But she still loved talking about times past, but I think that's mostly because wasn't able to remember much about the present at that point. But 80-95 was a piece of cake for her.
posted by nobeagle at 10:21 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandpa is in his late 70s, and he's a pretty happy guy. He used to be an engineer, and he spends a lot of time fixing gadgets he finds on the street. I think it keeps him engaged in life, to be performing these difficult, satisfying tasks all the time. He must have twenty computers in his house, and he's kept one of our TVs going for twenty years.

He might be a little lonely without his wife, but he visits his five children a lot, and I think that also helps- he has a supportive family to help him out.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:35 AM on May 15, 2008

My grandma is going to be 80 in a couple weeks, and while her life has had its tragedies, I think on the whole, she's happy. She's a really emotional, dramatic person, and always has been from what I've heard in stories. She drinks a lot, she had a new boyfriend 3 months after her husband of 55 years died, she walks a couple miles every day, she's the president of her homeowner's association, she diets continually and complains about how fat she is, she drives a Mini Cooper, she does e-trading, she goes on a couple cruises a year, has a million friends....She does have some major health problems, she had cancerous cells removed from her lungs a few years ago and she has terrible asthma/chronic bronchitis. But she has an indomitable spirit, honestly. I think the key to her continued happiness is that she doesn't act, think, or look like an 80 year old.

Here's my favorite story about her - about 15 years ago, she went on a cruise to Jamaica with my grandpa, who had a prosthetic leg, and a couple friends. They bought some pot and wanted to bring some back to the States, but they couldn't figure out how to get it back onto the boat since apparently their bags would be searched. My grandma's brilliant idea? She smuggled the bag of pot in the cavity of my grandpa's prosthesis.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 11:29 AM on May 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

My Nana lived to be in her mid-nineties. She was sick or a virtual invalid for half of her life. She outlived her husband by fifteen years. She presided over a large and the most disfunctional family you have ever conceived of. Never once did she falter, never once did she appear to lose hope. Was she happy? I have no idea, but I know she cherished every moment of her life. Her connection to her family, to us, was what kept her indomitable.

To give an example, in her 70's and 80's she would occasionally have to be hospitalized because of her health problems and inevitably the Docs would shake their heads and report that she was on her deathbed. And everyone would rush to be with her, from across the country and she would make a 'miraculous' recovery. This happened like ten times, I kid you not. We grandchildren used to jokingly (and quietly) refer to her as our "Frequently Dead Grandmother". Yet during those times when everyone was gathered, her joy was infectious. She lived for her family and I rather suspect any regret she had was that she could not be there for the four generations she considered her charges.

When she did pass away we all lost an incredible woman. She loved her life, as hard as it was, and her family, and she did not go at all easy into that dark night, although we all would have wished her a more gentle transition. Death worked some serious overtime to bring my Nana across. Never have I met a woman so strong, so enamored of life. An inspiration to all her kin to this day.
posted by elendil71 at 1:49 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife's grandparents are still alive well into their 80s.

The biggest issue is that they have some continuing health issues that can be stressful, but they certainly seem generally happy. They're still sufficiently active that they're able to go to hockey games, and were almost obscenely happy when we bought them a cheap 42" TV to watch hockey on.
posted by Project F at 3:17 PM on May 15, 2008

Regarding your friend: depression is common for old people. Your friends die, your body won't do what it used to, you may be ill, or not very healthy, and your own death approaches. Depression is treatable.
posted by theora55 at 3:34 PM on May 15, 2008

There's a guy around here, John Henry, who's so involved with the community that he's officially known as the "Greenbelt Greeter". I don't mean involved like on committees and stuff, but involved in like he'll walk around downtown, go into offices and chat, that sort of thing. He's the captain of our local community garden, and everyone knows him.

And he's probably the happiest 80-year-old guy I know. Definitely the flirtiest. -laugh- I think it's because he goes out of his way to have so many friends.
posted by GardenGal at 8:20 PM on May 15, 2008

My grandparents are in their early 80's. My grandpa is (and has always been) a grumpy pessimist. My Grandma on the other hand is almost obnoxiously happy. Both have health problems, but my grandma has always had debilitaing health issues, so has had lots of practice in being happy when in pain.
posted by kjs4 at 12:04 AM on May 16, 2008

my grandfather is nearly 86, and he is a very happy, positive person! he has traveled the world, and while he sticks closer to home (kansas city) now, he still travels several times a year to visit family around the u.s. he has a girlfriend close to his own age; he lives independently in a very nice house; he has a busy social life, meeting friends for breakfast, playing cards and golf, etc. he is in excellent health (takes no medications except for daily aspirin). i sure hope i have his health/longevity/outlook-on-life genes!
posted by comfortinsound at 7:22 AM on June 19, 2008

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