Major study reveals people reach their happiest at 82

Life begins at 80! Major study reveals people reach their happiest at 82 and parts of the brain improve as we get older

  • Daniel Levitin carried out study to bust myths about ageing such memory loss
  • He found that life ‘only gets better’ in terms of general mental contentment 
  • People become more empathetic and better equipped to deal with challenges

People reach their happiest aged 82 and parts of the brain even improve as we get older, according to a top neuroscientist.

Daniel Levitin carried out the study to bust myths about ageing including loss of memory and difficulties in learning new skills.

He found that life ‘only gets better’ in terms of general mental contentment and problem solving continues to progress well into old age, as part of his research for his new book The Changing Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Guide To Ageing Well.

People reach their happiest aged 82 and parts of the brain even improve as we get older, according to a top neuroscientist (stock image)

Speaking on Radio 2’s Good Morning Sunday, Mr Levitin said: ‘Neuroscience has found in the last ten years… [that] your memory won’t necessarily get impaired as you age.

‘Another big myth is that older adults are depressed.

‘But the average peak age of happiness across 72 countries is aged 82 and I think we can push that out another ten years if we can combat ageism as well as with medical technology.

‘We tend to think of ageing as this process starting at birth and if you’re lucky you get to keep doing it.

‘Ageing is everyone’s favourite alternative to death.

‘The story is you keep acquiring skills and getting better and better up until a point, then you start losing stuff like crumbling bits off the Rock of Gibraltar. 

‘But in fact we now have strong evidence in the last ten years that a number of brain faculties actually get better, right on up till the end.’

Mr Levitin added that the majority of people become more empathetic and are better equipped to deal with challenges in life – both for themselves and others. 


Mr Levitin also liaised with high profile members of the elderly community as part of his research, including Clint Eastwood, 89, (left) the Dalai Lama, 84, (right) and Stevie Wonder, 69.

The scientist also liaised with high profile members of the elderly community as part of his research including Clint Eastwood, 89, the Dalai Lama, 84, and Stevie Wonder, 69.

Mr Levitin was asked what Clint Eastwood’s secret to happiness in old age was, to which he said: ‘He told me: “I just don’t let the old man in”.’ 

Daniel Levitin’s top tips for happiness in old age

1. Don’t retire to ensure your mind is being stimulated by something meaningful

2. Exercise to release endorphins and produce a naturally happy high.

3. Try new things to promote cognitive activity

4. Moderation and variety in food and drink is key to a balanced lifestyle

5. Keep your social circle exciting and new as meeting strangers engages every part of the brain 

Speaking about the Dalai Lama, Mr Levitin said: ‘He’s one of the happiest people around and laughs a lot. 

‘He’s 84 and has published 125 books – one of them last year. 

‘His biggest piece of wisdom? Nine hours sleep every night.’

Levitin’s research also showed religious people were happier than those without a faith.

This is because such commitment often involves being thankful regardless of material possessions or worth.

Similarly, even the briefest of contact with strangers every day is thought to be beneficial to the mind. 

Citing research from friend and fellow Stanford University graduate Professor Barbara Fredrickson, he added: ‘Her happiness research shows the biggest factor in influencing whether you’re going to be happy through your day and throughout your life is having micro contacts with people you don’t know.

‘A little ten second conversation here and there.’

He said that meeting new people engaged all areas of the brain, from deciphering facial movement, speech and tone of voice to that which impacts how to react and present to a stranger. 

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