Helps sadness achieve goals

psychology : How feelings change over the course of life

"Emotions are the straw with which the drink is stirred," says psychologist Robert Levenson of the University of Berkeley. He means the drink of life. And since Levenson is an aging researcher, he is primarily concerned with stirring the glass that is at least half empty or at most half full, depending on the perspective. How does a person's emotional world change when they get older and eventually get old? That was one of the important topics of the congress of the German Society for Psychology in Leipzig.

At first glance, the findings appear contradictory. According to studies, seniors are more satisfied with their lives despite a variety of restrictions. And yet the suicide rate is particularly high in old age, as the statistics show. So what's right: Does one get happier or more unhappy in the course of life?

You are going through a development, was the judgment of the psychologist Ute Kunzmann from the University of Leipzig. The emotional development from adolescence to old age is a process that always includes losses and gains at the same time. Win provided that you remain mentally and spiritually healthy.

"Older people are less likely to have emotions that damage relationships"

Kunzmann and her working group examined this development primarily with regard to negative emotions, with the help of representative surveys of 18 to 87 year olds and in experiments. "The elderly have less relational emotions such as anger, hostility and contempt," summarized the psychologist.

The picture looks different when it comes to sadness. This feeling remains almost the same and tends to increase somewhat in old age. Both of these may help. Anger could be a driving force that gives young people energy and thereby helps them achieve their goals, if necessary at the expense of social relationships that, in the worst case, have to be re-established later.

In the course of life, other developmental tasks become more important. For example, coping with losses and getting rid of wishes that cannot (no longer) be fulfilled. Sadness can help with this, especially when you have close social relationships, which for most people become more important as they get older. Because unlike a longer lasting depression, for which other people cannot identify a specific reason, sadness is a social signal and triggers the impulse to comfort.

Older people feel better in the evening of a working day

Nobody wants these negative emotions. “Still, it's not bad to be angry when you are young. And it's not bad to be sad when you are older, ”was Kunzmann's summary. Anger and anger are often bad in work life. Age, of all things, could be an advantage here. But so far little research has been done. It is exciting to compare people of different age groups in a situation that demands effectiveness and the fulfillment of fixed role requirements from all of them without distinction.

Susanne Scheibe from the University of Groningen interviewed and examined health professionals and employees with customer contact, all between 17 and 64 years old, for two studies. The elderly felt better in the evening of a working day, they reacted less to negative experiences. “That's good news,” commented the psychologist. However, she also admitted that the studies could only include people who had kept their job until they were a bit older, which in itself can be a sign of mental robustness and positive feelings at work.

Young people prefer intense emotions

Adults in the middle of life not only report more positive feelings than teenagers and young adults, they also need them. The boys seem to be different. Michaela Riediger, who researches affects in the life course at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, reported at the congress on a series of studies that show that teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 in particular appreciate conditions in which they “feel good at the same time and feel bad ”. The generations differ not only with regard to this evaluation of negative feelings, but also with regard to the intensity of feelings. In music experiments, for example, the researchers found that older people prefer stimuli that drive the emotional level less. Maybe they want to go easy on themselves.

The rush hour of life has been little explored

It goes without saying that people of the same age differ in all phases of life due to their personality structure and life situation and also in terms of the appearance, intensity and evaluation of various emotions. Of course there are angry old people and deeply sad teenagers. And of course, people don't turn from adolescents who have trouble with their parents and can enjoy horror films to serene seniors who only listen to soft music and are modest for the rest of their lives with limited opportunities. Only developmental psychology knows much less about the phases in between, about the rush hour of life, which is mostly determined by work, partnership and family, than about youth and old age. "There is still too little empirical research and the available findings are inconsistent," reported Kunzmann.

There is on the one hand the midlife crisis, but on the other hand there is talk that this age group is at the peak of their psychological performance. While the lack of large studies can also be explained by the fact that busy 40-year-olds usually do not find time to participate, the drifting apart of the sparse results suggests that the emotional reactions of the "middle ages" are significantly more different than those of people that are still at the beginning or near the end of life.

Older people are more willing to help those who suffer

Levenson, the man with the straw in the drink of life, emphasized in his lecture that the changes in emotional experience that aging brings with it, unlike physical changes, do not automatically mean a decline.

A prime example of developmental psychologists for the balanced balance is the empathy, the ability to empathize with other people and their experiences. As people get older, they generally get worse at recognizing other people's emotions, such as the way they look on their faces. On the other hand, they are more able to empathize with those around them when they hear of a bad experience. And they show a greater willingness to help those affected by suffering.

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