“Though it may seem counterintuitive, even though we see a depletion of physical, financial, social, and perhaps even cognitive resources, emotional well-being in older adulthood is high in comparison to other stages of life. This suggests that with proper planning, despite lower resources, aging individuals can feel optimistic about increased longevity.”
– Dr. Joe Coughlin, Director of the MIT AgeLab
The AgeLab was established at MIT in 1999 as a multidisciplinary research program that works with businesses to improve the quality of life of older people and those who care for them. The AgeLab applies consumer-centered thinking to understand the challenges and opportunities of longevity and emerging generational lifestyles to encourage innovation across business markets. Their insights are critical for anyone who is nearing retirement, or who has loved ones such as parents, aunts, or uncles who are entering this stage of life. This article in our series discusses emotional well-being as we age.
Exploring the Four Phases
As we have discussed, the folks at the MIT AgeLab have proposed a new name for the “retirement years,” the stage of life that begins roughly at age 66 and extends for 25 or more years through the end of life. According to the AgeLab, these years should be named the “Exploring” phase of our lives, as opposed to “retirement.”
In their model for aging, the AgeLab also suggests that there are four distinct phases that people experience as they live through their “Exploring” years. The first of these is the “Honeymoon” phase, named because it marks the period of time when this whole idea of exploring our freedom is brand new to us. But, there are also a number of adjustments that must be made as we acclimate to the changes in our lives.
The second stage is called the “Big Decision” phase because this is a time when we are faced with very important decisions that may impact our quality of life for the rest of our lives, and in particular, decisions about where we will live.
The third stage, known as “Managing Longevity,” is when managing the complexities of life become more challenging. The final stage is the “Solo Journey,” referring to the period of time after one spouse passes away and the other is left to live the remainder of their years alone.
This “Exploring” phase – retirement – is also a peak time for happiness in most people’s lives.
The four phases of the “Exploring years” – the “Honeymoon” phase, the “Big Decision” phase, the “Managing Longevity” phase, and the “Solo Journey” phase – are meant to show that life after age 65 can be exciting, complex, and sometimes overwhelming, but that it is certainly not the end. Despite the challenges and complexities of these years, the “Exploring” period of our lives can be a wonderful time of freedom, enjoyment, and satisfaction.
In 2017, Business Insider conducted a study to identify the ages at which we peak at everything in life. The results were amusing, but they also demonstrate some interesting facts about life satisfaction and overall well-being.
Our “Life Satisfaction” peaks at 23, but then it peaks again at 69. As we near 70, we may think of the aging process as depressing because life is passing us by, but we are actually at peak satisfaction. This is probably due to the onset of the “Exploring” phase of our lives. We are excited to have more time and resources, and fewer responsibilities, to truly enjoy life on our own.
Following that, our “Psychological Well-being” peaks at age 82. Although we may anticipate it to be a difficult period of time when we are dealing with the realities of health concerns and our mortality, we’re also very likely to feel content. This is probably because we can sit back and reflect on our accomplishments, the lessons we have learned, and the experiences we have enjoyed.
Despite the challenges and issues we must face as we grow older, the good news is that it’s also a time when we have the freedom to enjoy a purposeful lifestyle and the opportunity to maximize our happiness, satisfaction, and well-being. Being prepared for the four stages – the “Honeymoon” phase, the “Big Decision” phase, the “Managing Longevity” phase, and the “Solo Journey” phase – will help you design your own life-path, so that you can grow older with the maximum amount of happiness, dignity, and independence.