How valuing friends makes twilight years the happiest

As people grow old they become cantankerous, grumpy and generally unhappy with their lot in life, according to popular portrayal.

Older people 'value friends more'

Far from the Victor Meldrew stereotype, those in their twilight years are actually happier than younger people  because they have learnt the value of a true friend.

People who value their friendships report having happier lives and the older we get the more we value our frends, the Office for National Statistics found.

Overall, just three in five people aged over 16 said they valued having friends, but this rose continually for the over 50s to more than four in five among the over-70s, the ONS survey of happiness found.

Four in five of those aged 50 or over who felt they were part of their community were also happy with their lives, compared with just half of those who did not.

Paul Green, of Saga, said as people enter old age they no longer cherish material possesions so much and instead focus on what really matters. “Life experience tells you that friends are more important and necessary than mere possessions,’ he said.

“Rather than valuing that new car and the other trinkets and baubles you build up the things that are important are the friends.

“Not only are they good company, but they remain with you through time as well.”

Mr Green went on: “What life tells us is that lots of things in this life are transitory.

“But the friends that you build up from school or work stick with you – it’s the friends and family who support you and give life that richness.

The ONS added: “Friends are part of a person’s support system and, unlike family, are chosen by the individual.

“They may often give advice on decisions and are companions in life who share interests and can be confided in.”

Feeling a part of a local community was also key to happiness, the official report on national well-being in older people’s neighbourhoods found.

Some seven in 10 people aged 50 to 54 felt they were part of their local community, but this rose to more than four in five among those aged 70 or over.

This compared with a national average for everyone over 16 of just two in three.

Mr Green said: “Older people tend to be more stable, they move around less frequently, and are likely to build and develop more connections with their communities.

“It’s a question of time as well.

“They might work part time so choose to do things which they might not necessarily get paid for, but in which they have an interest.

“They have a stronger stake in society and the area where they live and are more likely to be active in the community.”

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general at Age UK, added: “We know that feeling you belong in a neighbourhood can have a positive effect on a person’s health and wellbeing.

“Older people say they value easy access to a Post Office or a bank, good local transport networks, public seating, safe and well-lit streets and public toilets.

“Having these things in place would make life better for older people and promote their wellbeing.”

Dame Joan Bakewell, who was appointed as a voice for older people by Gordon Brown, agreed they often regarded friends as more precious and valuable than younger adults.

“The ones who are left you tend to cherish more because you’re not far from the end of your life so you value every day and every contact,” she said.

“As you get near the end of life you do regard it as more precious because it’s running out at such a rate, so you do value things that you once took for granted.

“You say to somebody, ‘Wasn’t it nice that evening we went to the restaurant’, whereas young people don’t bother to say that; they say, ‘what are we doing tonight?’ or whatever, so things become very precious as you get older, which is not a bad thing.”

The 79-year-old broadcaster also suggested older people valued friendships more after leaving the social lives they had while working.

“We’re social creatures and we need to inter-relate with people,” she said.

“We do it automatically going to work on the tube and the bus, even if we don’t like it we’re interacting with people.

“When you’re at home and if you’re retired and on your own, or there’s just two of you, you really miss that, so you join the golf club or the bowls – whatever you do you come together with other people.”

Dame Joan added that older people also tended to like each other’s company “because the world of the young becomes increasingly mysterious and obviously one doesn’t have any play in the Justin Bieber world of pop music so you tend to come together as a persecuted majority”.

“You relish each other’s company for good reason,” she said.