Why Shouldn’t You Strive for Happiness Late in Life?

My dad was an intelligent, creative, and incredibly thwarted guy who was miserable most of his life. I suggested a few times that he get therapy, and the answer was always, “What do you think I am? Nuts?” And so he never got happier. So I’m really happy to read that more elderly people are willing to consider therapy:

“For people in their 80s and 90s now, depression was considered almost a moral weakness,” said Dr. Gallagher-Thompson. “Fifty years ago, when they were in their 20s and 30s, people were locked up and someone threw away the key. They had a terrible fear that if they said they were depressed, they were going to end up in an institution. So they learned to look good and cover their problems as best they could.”

But those attitudes have shifted over time, along with the medical community’s understanding of mental illness among seniors. In the past, the assumption was that if older people were acting strangely or having problems, it was probably dementia. But now, “the awareness of depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse as possible problems has grown,” said Bob G. Knight, a professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California, and the author of “Psychotherapy With Older Adults.”

My Dad would have been 88 this year. He was capable of so much more than he achieved, both personally and professionally, but factors including the Great Depression, the traumatic loss of his teenaged brother to cancer, and his own failure to develop in some ways blocked him.

I’m so grateful we live in an age where the culture supports our personal growth and evolution. It’s a worthwhile quest, an activist one, even. Every year we not only have more useful tools for examining and improving our lives, but more people willing to do it.

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