Sizing Up Baby Boomer Travel Trends

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 16, 2018

Over a week ago, AARP Travel released the long-awaited results of its annual travel trend survey, examining travel behaviors across generations, looking at expectations and planning among Baby Boomers (ages 54 to 72), Gen Xers (38 to 53), and Millennials (ages 21 to 37).

According to the new national AARP survey, Boomers, considered to be enthusiastic travelers, expressed an eagerness to travel in 2019, planning to take a total of four to five leisure trips, on which they will spend over $6,600 (compared to Gen Xers spending $5,400 and Millennials outlaying $ 4,440.)

Meanwhile, a small number of the AARP survey’s respondents say they will only travel internationally (6 percent) while the rest are equally split between traveling throughout the nation (48 percent) or traveling both domestically and internationally (48 percent).

For Boomers, Planning a Trip is Not a Last Minute Chore

According to the 47-page 2019 Boomer Travel Trends report, released on Dec. 3, 2018, this year’s travel planning is taking place earlier as compared to previous years. A significant majority of Boomers (88 percent) planning domestic trips in 2019 have already selected their destination, an increase from 72 percent of 2018 domestic travelers. For Boomers traveling abroad, 31 percent had booked their 2019 trips by September 2018, up from 23 percent by September of the previous year in 2018 and 17 percent in 2017.

The AARP survey notes that when Boomers travel overseas, Europe continues to be the most popular choice followed by Italy and France. The findings also indicate that trips to the Caribbean and South and Central America remain popular, but interest in Mexico is waning.

For Boomers, domestic travel preferences have not changed in several years; Southern and Western states continue to be popular to most older travelers. Boomers are most likely to plan summer vacations (13 percent), weekend getaways (12 percent), and multi-generational trips (11 percent).

Travel destination preferences remain unchanged from last year, with Florida (17 percent) being the top-mentioned location followed by California (11%), New York (5%), Texas (5%), and Las Vegas (5%).

“According to this research, Boomers travel plans in 2019 are focused on spending time with family and friends, while getting away from everyday life,” said Patty David, Director Consumer Insights, and Personal Fulfillment in a statement. “Whether it’s a weekend road trip or an international vacation, Boomers are eager to travel in 2019 and are planning earlier and spending more than in year’s past.” she says.

The AARP Travel survey results also indicate that when traveling Boomers seek connection with locals for an authentic experience, especially over meals or when taking tours on international trips. Work was not found to be the biggest barrier to travel for older travelers, but cost (40 percent) and health issues/concerns (32 percent) were mentioned most often by the survey respondents.

Boomer respondents also tend to travel to get away from the day to day routines (47 percent) to relax (48 percent), and to spend time with family and friends (57 percent). Twenty four percent of the boomers say they have placed taking an international vacation on their life’s bucket list.

Researchers also took a look at intergeneration travel trends, too. Thirty-two percent of grandparents have taken their grandkids on a skip-generation trip, leaving mom and pop at home, and 15 percent of these older travelers are already planning to do so in 2019. Seventy-seven percent of these Boomers will do most of the trip planning themselves and 76 percent will pay for most of the trip.

Working Boomers do not feel compelled to stay connected to the office while traveling but for those who choose to will limit contact time, says the AARP survey’s finding. A few have even taken the opportunity to extend work trips for pleasure and fun or intend to do so in future trips.

Finally, most of the AARP survey respondents say they travel with a smartphone on domestic trips, but about only half choose to bring them on international trips. The top use for these phones while on vacation is to take photos.

Boomer Travel Trends in the Nation’s Smallest State

Lara Salamano, Chief Marketing Officer of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, sees tourism as an important industry in the state. “It is the fifth-largest industry in R.I. by employment, and in 2017, the total traveler economy reached $6.5 billion,” she says.

“Multigenerational vacations featuring extended stays in vacation rentals or weekend family getaways are very popular here in the Ocean State,” says Salamano, noting that tourists are taking full advantage of the state’s authentic experiences, specifically great food, historic, natural beauty including its beaches, walking and bike trails and cultural attractions. “We also have a great array of soft adventure activities for the whole family. This is a case where our size works to our advantage as families can easily experience a wide range of different activities in a short period of time,” she adds.

Salamano notes that water, sailing, horse-riding on the beach, golf also attracts Boomers, too. Rhode Island is playing host to the U.S.G.A. Senior Open in 2020, she adds.

In addition, Boomers are big shoulder season travelers as they are not tied down by school vacation period. They are free to enjoy midweek and off-peak times of year to avoid higher prices, she says…

While summer remains the state’s most popular tourism season, the state’s Marketing Office has identified shoulder seasons as growth opportunities, says Salamano, noting that “Our most popular trip is domestic travelers living within a three-hour drive.

Salamano sees the Ocean States as quite different from those popular travel destinations chosen by the respondents of this year’s AARP’s Travel Survey. “Those destinations are also much larger, whereas Rhode Island’s small size ensures visitors are spending less time driving in traffic or waiting in lines, and more time actually on vacation. This was the jumping off point for our “Fun Sized” ad campaign which we rolled out last year,” she said. To see Fun Sized videos, go to http://www.visitrhodeisland.com/press/fun-sized-campaign/.

Getting the Bang for Your Marketing Dollars

According to Salamano, Rhode Island’s public relations strategy targeting Millennials involves pitching journalists on Rhode Island’s newest offerings such as new craft breweries and wineries, restaurants, special events, and hotel accommodations. This has led to placements national publications (including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Forbes) as well as more targeted publications such as the Boston Globe, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and TimeOutNewYork.

Digital ads are targeted to both Boomers and Millennials. “We have a robust advertising strategy, including digital ad placements to target audiences on websites that include travel planning sites and news publications. Digital advertising allows us to both target audiences and track our performance very effectively. Our ‘Fun Sized’ videos feature a wide variety of activities that appeal to both Baby Boomers and Millennials. This includes rock climbing, horseback riding and bird watching, to music, performances, restaurants and WaterFire,” says Salamano.

To read the full AARP Travel survey results, go to http://www.aarp.org/2019traveltrends. For more information, contact Vicki Gelfeld at vgelfeld@aarp.org.

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Bridging the Generations Through Multi-generational Trips

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 24, 2015

        For America’s 76 million baby boomers who spend $120 billion annually in leisure travel, three generation family vacations, including kids, parents, aunts/uncles and grandparents, are becoming a popular way to bond and create lasting memories, says a new AARP study about travel patterns of age 45 and over persons.

Researchers say that “a multi-generational trip is not typically inspired by a special event, but rather a desire to spend quality time together as a family.”  Although grandparents are more likely to pick up the tab for the trip, typically each family pays for their own expenses, they note.  Eighty one percent of travelers stayed at the same accommodation with their entire family.

The February 2015 research study on Multi-Generational Travel, offers insights into multi-generational vacations including why families are going, where they’re going, what they do on these family vacations, the challenges to plan them and why they create memories of a lifetime.

“Multi-generational family travel is becoming the new trend in family vacations. Our AARP 2015 Travel Trends found initial evidence that they would be popular in 2015 and now we know why,” said Stephanie Miles, Vice President, Member Value, AARP. “Our multi-generational travel research found 98 percent of travelers who took a multi-generational trip were highly satisfied and 85 percent are planning to take another one in the next 12 months.”

According to the study’s findings, 80 percent of the respondents traveled domestically in the U.S. and many chose active cities, beaches, amusement parks (Disney, too).  Also, California and Hawaii were two popular states to visit.  Domestic generational trips usually spans from 4 to 7 days.

Twenty percent traveled internationally with half heading to the Caribbean, Mexico or South America, says the findings.  Cruising is also a popular way to vacation for 25 percent of international travelers.  But, almost 40 percent chose nostalgic destinations to share a childhood memory.

The study finds that regardless of the location of the multi-generational trip, “dining out is the primary activity that engages the whole group.” While selecting and planning a trip may challenging, especially choosing the travel date, 98 percent of the multi-generational travelers were satisfied with their most recent trip.

Researchers found that traveling with parents, kids and grandparents can be positive in many ways.  Eighty three percent say that the trip brings the entire family together, while 69 percent stressed it helped to build special memories.  Fifty percent of the respondents noted that they were able to spend time with grandkids and 36 percent note the quality one-on-one time with family/spouse experienced during traveling.  Twenty nine percent say there were benefits of adult relatives spending time with younger generations.

The new research conducted by AARP Travel offers valuable insights into multi-generational travel, findings that Collette certainly can relate to, says Amelia Sugerman, Communications & Public Relations for Pawtucket-based Collette, a third-generation family-owned travel company.  “Over the past five years, Collette has witnessed an increase in family travel by about 20%,” she says, noting that this might be tied to age 65 and older adults who feel an urgent need to create ever lasting memories with their families.

“In a day and age where text messaging and face time has become the norm, it’s a unique chance to spend quality time together as one unit.  Although we do agree that bringing the family together and helping to build memories are top benefits of multi-generational travel, we have also identified many families who use the experience to celebrate a momentous occasion or event, says Sugerman, noting that the AARP study did not find special events triggering the planning of a Multi-Generation Vacation.

An older traveler, who took Collette’s National Parks tour, recently shared the details why this trip was so important to her family.  “My husband and I are getting older. Of course we think about the time we have left to spend with our grandchildren. This experience was the perfect way to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.”

Like many of Collette’s older travelers, this customer was ambivalent about the destination. adds Sugerman, noting that the older couple did not want to travel too far and wanted everyone to enjoy themselves, but the experiences were far more important than the sights of the destination.”

Sugerman says the benefits of touring organized by companies like Collette, is that guests of all ages can have a great experience and no one has to worry about the details of planning.  This reflects findings in the AARP study that found 20 percent of families identify the task of coordinating the trip to be the toughest.

“Guided travel takes the guess work out of it [traveling] and leaves valuable time for guests to simply enjoy their time together, says Sugerman.

Don’t forget to document your family multigenerational trips, suggests Patricia S. Zacks, proprietor of the Camera Werks, on Hope Street in Providence.   “While it’s trendy to be taking pictures on your cell phone or selfies documenting your vacation, people tend not to print these pictures,” she says, noting that statistics indicate that these pictures stay on a disk or memory card.

Taking special pictures of your family members on a trip will give you images that you can look at and reflect on, says Zacks. ‘There is nothing more special to look at than a 100 year old printed photo.  The younger generation geared to cell phones won’t have this experience.

For more information about Multi-Generational Travel vacations, go to http://www.gocollette.com

For details on planning a stress free family vacation, go to travel.aarp.org/articles-tips/articles/info-10-2013/how-to-plan-a-stressfree-multigenerational-trip.html.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Study: Citizens Over Age 50 Not a Drain on Economy

Published in Pawtucket Times, October 10, 2014

Almost one year ago, Oxford Economics in cooperation with AARP released a briefing paper, The Longevity Economy. The national study gave the nation’s largest aging advocacy group the ammunition it needed to dispel the myth that baby boomers and seniors are not a drain on the nation’s economy, rather researchers found that they drivers of the nation’s economic growth. This data will keep businesses, investors and inventors from overlooking the wants and needs of older Americans as they develop new products and business plans.

This week the national analysis was supplemented, detailing the state level contribution of people over 50.

Shattering a Myth

According to Jody Holtzman, AARP’s Senior Vice President Thought Leadership, the nonprofit aging advocacy group commissioned the initial Longevity Economy report from Oxford Economics to challenge society’s and Washington’s misconceptions that people over age 50 are only a drain on the economy. He said, “to the contrary the analysis shows that this population is an important driver of economic growth in key sectors of the United State economy such as technology, healthcare, travel and education.”

Holtzman says the formal economic impact analysis has been conducted, both nationally at the state level can shift the way federal and state policy makers will view the nation’s aging population. “Not only can we “afford” the growing population of older people, we can’t do without them, as they are a key source of economic growth, jobs, salaries, and taxes that benefit people and families of all ages and generations,” he says.

“The economic activity of the Longevity Economy provides employment for nearly 89 million Americans with $3.8 trillion in salary and wages, contributes $1.75 trillion in Federal and state and local taxes annually and is a huge source of charitable giving, contributing nearly $100 billion annually to a variety of causes and concerns – nearly 70% of all charitable donations from individuals,” says Holtzman.

The 19 page study notes that by 2032, it is projected that over age 50 Americans will make up about 52 percent of the US GDP. The average wealth of the households of these individuals is almost three times the size of those headed by people ages 25 to 50.

As to technology, Baby Boomers (ages 50 to 68) are heavy users of the internet and social networking and they spend more time online when compared to either Generation X (ages 34 to 49) and Generation Y (ages 14 to 33) consumers. Boomers average online spending over a three month period amounts to $650 outpacing the two younger generations.

Researchers also found that those over age 50 fill nearly 100 million jobs, generating over $4.5 trillion in wages and salaries.

The Longevity Economy is not a passing phenomenon, observes Holtzman, noting that increased life spans will result in a “consistently large over-50 population even after the Baby Boomer wave has crested.”

Holtzman adds, “The particular wants and needs of the Longevity Economy when it comes to consumer spending, housing, healthcare and employment have dramatic implications for business, society and government.” Not only does the Longevity Economy have a strong, net positive economic impact on the nation’s economy, the nation’s age 50 and over “will also continue to serve as a significant resource and safety net for their parents and children.”

A Snap Shot of Rhode Island

Despite being 36 percent of the state’s population in 2013 (expected to reach 38 percent in 2040), the total economic contribution of the Longevity Economy accounted for 46 percent of Rhode Island’s GDP, or $24 billion, noted by AARP’s release of its state specific analysis. The impact on the state’s GDP was driven by $18 billion in consumer spending by over 50 households.

Rhode Island’s $24 billion Longevity Economy GDP supported 54 percent of the state’s jobs (0.3 million), 47 percent of employee compensation ($14 billion), and 52 percent of state taxes ($2 billion), says the state specific economic analysis,

Also, the state specific dated noted that the greatest number of jobs supported by the Longevity Economy were in health care (88,000), retail trade (47,000) and accommodation & food service (33,000). Overall, people over age 50 make up 34 percent of the state’s workforce. Sixty seven percent of the workers ages 50 to 64 are employed compared to 79 percent ages 25 to 49.

Finally, 11 percent of the state’s older workers (ages 50 to 64) are self-employed entrepreneurs, compared with 7 percent of people ages 25 to 49. Forty four percent of these older workers work in professional occupations, compared to 47 percent of the younger workers.

The [Rhode Island] analysis takes a closer look at something we have known for some time,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Rhode Islanders 50-plus are an important driver of our state’s economy,” she says.

Connell says the data complements findings in a paper published recently by the journal PLOS ONE, a group of international researchers at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, the Max Planck Institute and the University of Washington. “It concluded that as retirement approaches and certainly after retirement, leisure time increases. And while there are many who will gear down, relax, travel and devote time to grandchildren (traditional retirement), Baby Boomers – better educated, healthier and with greater access to information than any previous generation of retirees – will have much more time to provide the energy and intellectual capacity, as well as the capital resources to help drive innovation,” she adds.

“With that in mind, AARP partners with the Small Business Administration to support ’encore entrepreneurs’ 50 and older. I agree with SBA Administrator Karen Mills, who says retirees are using their decades of expertise and their contacts to start new businesses and to finally pursue that venture that has been stirring their dreams for all these years,” Connell says.

“So not only do the people who make up the longevity economy represent an economic impact,” Connell added, “they are in a position to be leaders in innovation.”

AARP’s economic data analysis has shattered the age-old myth that a growing older population will ultimately bankrupt the federal and state’s budgets because of the need for increased programs and services for these individuals. Data shows us that America’s oldest generations can be considered the gas that revs the state and nation’s economic engine. Federal and State policy makers need to get this point.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health and medical care issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

When That Time Comes for Liquidating Your Childhood Home

Published in the Pawtucket Times, March 29, 2013 

            It’s now a traditional rite of passage that marks a person transitioning to baby boomer-hood, that is the difficult task of cleaning out a childhood home. Like millions of aging baby boomers before her, a writer friend of mine is now facing this later life stage milestone and the challenging chore of cleaning out 50 years of accumulated “stuff” in her parent’s home, following the recent passing of her widowed father.

 

            The East Providence resident tells me that her parents, married for over 60 years, had lived in the same 1960s ranch-style house for 50 years, and the older couple’s household goods just kept accumulating.  “Beyond basic cleaning, my parents never really ‘decluttered’ or even had a yard sale,” she noted, where they could easily get rid of household clutter to make some extra cash.

 Overcoming Seller’s Guilt, Finding Time to Sort

             Never mind the emotional feelings experienced, especially the twinge of guilt at disposing of things that were once important to her parents, accumulated over five decades.  But what about the time it takes to just sift through a lifetime of accumulated household goods, clothing, and furniture, says my overwhelmed friend. “It’s just too much stuff to get rid of – especially with my very demanding full-time job and little time on the weekends to sort through things.”   

             “Many of my parent’s personal items, like a sold dark cherry wood bedroom set, dishes, glasses, barware and vases from the 1940s and 1950s, boxes of old coins, even hand-embroidered table cloths and runners, are just too nice to get rid of at a weekend yard sale,” notes my friend. But, because of their age these items may not be considered truly antiques, she says.

 

            “Where do you take mom’s collection of Franklin Mint plates, porcelain figurines of carousel horses and birds, even some Hummel pieces?” my friend asks, who does not want to drive around to the coin store, antique dealer or linen store to sell each item.  Selling on EBay is just too much work, she believes.

 

Choosing the Right Strategy to Liquidate

           So, what steps do older children take in cleaning out a lifetime of their parent’s personal mementos and personal belongings from their childhood home?  Do you rent a dumpster and indiscriminately begin tossing away their loved ones cherished possessions, or hire a professional liquidator or a junk hauler to have someone come and do the pitching for you?   What about holding a big weekend yard sale, that might just do the trick?  Be warned, by choosing one of these options you might be under-selling an item that could be valuable due to its age, quality or rarity.    

           Making the right decision on how to liquidate your parent’s personal belongings might just rest on how financially well-heeled they were,” says Scott Davis, who operates New England’s highest volume antiques venue, the Rhode Island Antique Mall with his wife Rae.  “Having liquidated many hundreds of estates I can tell you that unless you come from a family of significant means or your parents were knowledgeable collectors, it’s highly unlikely that the combined value of the estate’s tangible assets is going to have a wholesale liquidation value of over $5,000 once the family claims the items they want to keep (which are usually the most valuable)” notes the antique dealer.   “Thus you have to make a decision about how much effort is really appropriate for you to spend trying to get top dollar for every object.”

            “If your parent’s estate is known to have higher value tangible assets you might want to first hire an appraiser to determine the value of at least the most important items,” suggests Davis, noting that “a legitimate appraiser should always charge by the hour, not by item value.”

           Davis states that higher-end antique dealers or auction houses will “cherry pick” your items, only taking the most interesting and valuable things.  Antique dealers should typically pay the most for each item.  Auctioneers might bring more but will never guarantee it, and many items sold at auction bring shockingly low prices so deciding which way to go depends on your risk tolerance.  Others dealers or liquidators will offer to take a larger percentage of the household goods at a lower cost per item while junk dealers or junk removal services may take everything in the house but will frequently actually charge you for the service while keeping anything they can re-sell.   “You have to determine what type of service suits your situation best,” he says, going on to say that in his experience it never pays to go straight to the junk guy first.

           Davis recommends that in most cases it doesn’t pay to attempt to sell items yourself noting that it can be very time consuming to sell things one piece at a time and buyers are hesitant to pay retail prices to inexperienced sellers.  An antique dealer or private buyers can be easily found on-line, in local phone books, or in dealer directories that can be found in local shops.  According to Davis, if you chose this option, dealers will typically offer you less than half of the anticipated retail value of the items but they of course have a lot of risk and expense along with their entitlement to earn a profit for their efforts.

          Some folks attempt to sell their items on EBay or Craig’s List but Davis warns that unless you have a lot of prior experience, the results are usually disappointing or worse.  Selling on-line yourself requires a lot of time for research, photography, copywriting, corresponding and shipping while buyers tend to shy away from sellers who have little or no feedback; resulting in no takers for fixed price sales or very low prices realized for auction sales.

           While it may take longer to sell everything, consignment is another option you might consider, Davis says.  However, the Pawtucket-based antique dealer warns that you’ll usually pay from 35% to 60% of the items retail selling price for this service. 

           Davis urges folks to always look for customer traffic, location, reputation and fee structure if you choose to place items on consignment.  Check the references of the antique dealer or liquidator you may be interested in working with, inspecting their retail establishment to determine if it is professionally run.  Meanwhile, he notes that consigned piece usually sells in 60 days or less; otherwise the price is reduced or the item is returned to you.  Antique shops or malls are the best places to consign more valuable antiques, collectibles and vintage items, while newer or lesser valued items will usually do best in local consignment shops that focus on useful second hand items.  Pawn shops are rarely if ever your best option unless you wish to borrow money using the items as collateral, he says. 

           When cleaning out a home, consider throwing away old mattresses, towels, bedding and paperwork yourself, as these items are usually not valuable and will cost you more for others to dispose of, says Davis, noting that often times it is not easy to determine what other things should just be thrown away.  “Although traditional antiques and collectibles like pottery, glassware and china, frequently have little demand in today’s market, seemingly valueless items that include war souvenirs, political memorabilia and even nostalgic items like old phones, light fixtures and old linens, may be quite valuable,” he says. 

          Davis warns not to begin your house cleaning by throwing things away in a dumpster or planning your yard sale without calling a reputable antique dealer or estate liquidator to assist you in “separating the wheat from the chafe” first.   They are accustomed to sorting through drawers, boxes, closets and basements and their experience enables them to quickly identify valuable items, he says.

         Finally, rare antiques and collectibles can be sold for top dollar at auctions, Davis notes. “The right item in the wrong auction can produce a total flop,” he observes, noting that there’s usually a long wait between the day you initially contact an auction house and day it actually sells – probably about a year.  A good full-service liquidator can help you to determine when auctioning is the right option and if so, which auctioneer will suit you best.  They are usually paid by the auctioneer for this referral service, so it’s a no-lose for the seller.        

             For more information on liquidating your childhood home, contact Scott Davis at 401/475-3400, email him at RIAntiquesMall@cox.net, or go to riantiquesmall.com.

 

            Herb Weiss, LRI ‘12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

AARP Research Study Explores Why People Are Happy

Published September 14, 2012, Pawtucket Times

           “Good conversation, meeting new people while traveling, and being in good health” brings much happiness to long-time Pawtucket resident Jean Babiec.  The former Providence school teacher, in her eighth decade, added she would be ‘extremely happy’ if the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation, signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee, to create a Pawtucket Red Sox vanity license plate.

           At-Large Pawtucket City Councilor, Lorenzo C. Tetreault, 65, is “the happiest when he can help others.”  The retired Pawtucket teacher is also happy when he holds his one-year old twin grandsons from Narragansett, Samuel and Benjamin, in his arms.

           Former Pawtucket Tax Assessor, Dave Quinn, 64, who now oversees the Tax Office in the City of Providence, finds happiness “knowing that his family is healthy and his children are doing well.”  The Seekonk resident also feels happy by being intellectually challenged by his job.

           Babiec, Tetreault and Quinn’s statements on what makes them happy are reflected by others documented in a recently released AARP study on what happiness means to aging baby boomers.  The findings of this report indicate that relationships and being in control of your health and life are key factors in bringing happiness into your life.  

Defining Happiness

            The new AARP study, titled “Beyond Happiness: Thriving,” found that most Americans age 35 and over are happy, but compared to historical General Social Survey (GSS) data, levels of happiness are on the decline and at their lowest levels (due in part to the nation’s economic downturn).  In an effort to explore what happiness means to aging baby boomers and what it takes to thrive as they age, over 4,000 adults age 35 and over were surveyed to determine what makes them happy.   

             “We’re always looking to get a more robust understanding of the contributors and barriers to happiness in people’s lives,” said Steve Cone, Executive Vice President of Integrated Value Strategy, AARP. “Building on previous AARP research, which shows the importance of happiness and peace of mind to aging baby boomers, these new results affirm that we are on the right track—advocating to ensure basic health and financial security and making available everyday discounts that let people enjoy time with family and friends.”  

             According to researchers, the findings of this study reveal the existence of a U-shape curve of happiness by age. The early 50s is the lowest point from which happiness builds. Thus, if you missed happiness in your 30’s, there is still another chance to achieve it in your 60’s.

             The Researchers note that as people age and eventually retire, they can devote more time to building relationships and just enjoying simple everyday pleasures.  Younger people are still working hard to solidify their accomplishments.

           The AARP study’s results also provide four key insights around the drivers of happiness.

The Happiness Spectrum

            Overall, the strong majority (68%) of respondents say they are happy, although intensity of happiness is somewhat tempered as the largest percent report being somewhat happy (49%) versus very happy (19%). Almost half of those surveyed feel they are just as happy as others (49%) and the rest tend to believe that they are happier than others (31%) as opposed to less happy than others (13%). Part of this may be attributed to the perceptions of people being the masters of their own happiness destiny.

            More interesting, the respondents were concern for the happiness of the next generation. Less than half feel they will be as happy or more (45%). Most are either not sure (19%) or believe they will be less happy (35%).

Relationships Key to Happiness 

           The AARP survey findings also indicate that regardless of your age, good relationships with friends, family, and even pets, were found to be universally important. Activities associated with those relationships contributed most to a person’s happiness. The most significant activity was kissing or hugging someone you love.  Other activities included: watching your children grandchildren or close relative succeed; being told you are a person who can be trusted or relied upon; spending time with your family or friends such as a meal or social gathering; and finally, experiencing a special moment with a child. 

            Researchers say that relationships with family pets were especially important to women, singles and older individuals.  However, relationships did have to be real: “connecting with friends or family on a social media site like Facebook” came in 37th out of 38 activities in contributing to happiness. Importantly, none of the top contributors require a lot of money to achieve; they are “simple pleasures” that can be had by all.

 Good Health Linked to Happiness 

          Without good health, it is far more difficult to achieve happiness: people in “good or excellent” health are three times more likely to report being “very” happy, the researchers say.  However, one’s health may be more a state of mind than objective reality.  The findings noted that the percentage of those reporting good health is relatively stable over the ages 35 to 80, varying only seven percentage points, even as reported chronic or serious medical conditions increase 400% in the same age range. 

Calling the Shots, Brings Happiness

          The majority of those surveyed feel they have control over their personal level of happiness. Interestingly, this sense of control increases with age. Moreover, people who feel in control are clearly happier—reporting that they are 2.5 times happier than those who believe happiness is out of their control. The study’s findings indicate that a sense of control is linked to higher income, higher education, good health and the lack of having experienced a major life event in the past year.

Money Does Not Always Guarantee Happiness

            While many will say having money can bring happiness, this research study showed that it seems that how one spends it seems to matter more.  Happiness increases with income and conversely, lack of financial resources was tied to unhappiness. While less than a third of participants said money contributed to happiness, when asked how they would spend $100 on something to increase happiness, most respondents said they would spend it on their family or going out to dinner. Money is only a resource, that when applied to meaningful areas of one’s life, can provide experiences that can increase happiness.

         Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.