DR. MICHAEL MOSLEY: It’s official, if you’re over 60, you’re HAPPIER than ever!

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What is happiness? It’s one of those questions that has haunted great minds over the centuries, including Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, who famously made the statement, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

I hate to contradict one of my favorite philosophers, but thanks to the World Happiness Report, compiled by the United Nations Development Network every March, we now have more reliable ways to measure happiness than the ‘warm puppy index ‘, and we can also predict what will make us happy.

The report is based on surveys conducted by Gallup World Poll that involved more than 1.6 million people from 156 countries.

While we all have our ups and downs, average scores for countries don’t usually change much from year to year – except last year when the UK became a noticeably less fortunate place.

One of the questions people are asked is to put themselves on a ladder depending on how happy they are about their life – imagine that the top of the ladder scores ten (i.e. you are blissfully happy), the bottom is zero.

Try it yourself without thinking too much. I gave myself an eight, the happiness of having a supportive wife, great kids, good friends, decent health and a job that I enjoy, all things that predict happiness.

The average score for people in the UK is normally around seven, compared to a 7.9 if you live in Finland and 2.5 if you live in Afghanistan.

While we all have our ups and downs, average scores for countries don’t usually change much from year to year – except last year when the UK became a noticeably less fortunate place.

In 2020, just like the past four years, Finland was at the top of the happiness competition, closely followed by Iceland, Denmark and Switzerland.

The UK, which normally comes around number 13, slid back to 18, overtaken by Ireland, Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium and the US Globally, people proved to be remarkably resilient in the face of what was a truly disastrous year. .

One of the questions people are asked is to put themselves on a ladder depending on how happy they are about their life - imagine that the top of the ladder scores ten (i.e. you are blissfully happy), the bottom is zero

One of the questions people are asked is to put themselves on a ladder depending on how happy they are about their life - imagine that the top of the ladder scores ten (i.e. you are blissfully happy), the bottom is zero

One of the questions people are asked is to put themselves on a ladder depending on how happy they feel about their life – imagine that the top of the ladder scores ten (i.e. you are blissfully happy) , the bottom is zero

According to the report, this is largely because the pandemic has broadened our perspective and made us realize that we are part of a wider society.

Threatened by a common enemy, we have shown a willingness to volunteer and help others through the tough times.

Being supported and supporting others is one of the best ways to increase happiness, and we’ve seen many examples of that in the last 12 months.

My elderly mother, who was in hiding on her own, was really touched by all the help offers from her neighbors, and I think things like blows to the NHS have brought people together too.

Interestingly, the countries that have consistently scored highest on the happiness index over the years are also those that weathered the Covid-19 crisis particularly well. That seems to be because of ‘trust’.

Whether it’s trust in your government or trust in your fellow humans, this is both an important predictor of happiness and a predictor of whether you’re going to follow the rules and do things like wear face masks and wash your hands.

Why has the UK been overtaken by other countries? Confidence appears to have fallen due to the government’s untimely mishandling of the pandemic. It will be interesting to see if we can catch up next year thanks to vaccine success.

The UK also saw a significant increase in anxiety and depression, especially among young people. Studies suggest that about one in five of the population now suffers from mental health problems that they did not have a year ago.

That said, 2020 was clearly a bad year for young people around the world, with high unemployment rates and far fewer opportunities to socialize. And this is reflected in one of the report’s most striking findings.

Previous research has suggested that happiness follows a U-shaped curve, with people reporting that they are quite happy in their 20s, then becoming gloomy as they approach middle age, before hitting rock bottom around 50. Then they usually start to become more perky, until they reach old age.

Threatened by a common enemy, we have shown a willingness to volunteer and help others through the tough times.  Being supported and supporting others is one of the best ways to increase happiness, and we've seen many examples of that in the last 12 months

Threatened by a common enemy, we have shown a willingness to volunteer and help others through the tough times.  Being supported and supporting others is one of the best ways to increase happiness, and we've seen many examples of that in the last 12 months

Threatened by a common enemy, we have shown a willingness to volunteer and help others through the tough times. Being supported and supporting others is one of the best ways to increase happiness, and we’ve seen many examples of that in the last 12 months

This pattern likely reflects the fact that in our twenties we see the world as our oyster, but as we age we realize that many of our dreams will not come true. By our late 50s, we have come to terms with how our lives have turned out and are increasingly finding happiness in friends and family.

This year, however, the age-happiness chart looks very different. Young people are less happy than those in their 30s, who are less happy than those in their 40s, and so on. But the over-60s seem remarkably cheerful, despite Covid’s threat.

One of the main reasons seems to be that they say they feel healthier, even though the evidence shows they aren’t!

Perceived health is a great predictor of happiness and the percentage of men over 60 who say they have a health problem has dropped from 46 percent earlier to 36 percent in 2020. For women, the percentage has dropped from 51 to 42.

It seems that for those over 60, like me, the threat from Covid has put everything else in perspective.

Knowing we’ve dodged the bullet so far is cause for celebration. As I said at the outset, happiness is not fixed, so I fervently hope that we are heading for happier times, especially for young people.

World Happiness Report

Spending too much time sitting in front of screens isn’t good for our eyes – not only can it be tiring, but it can also make your eyes feel gritty and red, as I’ve found after so many video meetings.

If you’re staring at a screen, your blink rate drops to about a third of normal, from 15 to 18 times a minute to just five times a minute: and this is a problem because blinking lubricates and cleans your eyes.

One of the best ways to combat digital eye strain is the 20/20/20 rule: Get up every 20 minutes and stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

This relaxes your eye muscles and increases your blink rate, washing your eyeballs properly.

The latest weapon against aches and pains? Leek …

I’ve had a lot of injuries in my time, including breaking my leg and falling off my bike, so I’m fairly familiar with pain. I count my blessings that unlike an estimated 30 million Britons, I have not had to endure chronic pain.

And, tragically, the pandemic is making things worse for them. A study from the University of Edinburgh last week found that the number of NHS patients waiting for hip and knee replacement (usually for arthritis), with pain they classified as ‘worse than death’, has doubled in the past year.

What can be done? There is now an understandable reluctance to prescribe powerful painkillers due to publicity about the overuse of opioids. These drugs are also not particularly effective for chronic pain.

What is urgently needed are new ways to treat pain. This is where a nonsurgical procedure called genicular artery embolization (GAE) comes in.

Another step is a diet rich in prebiotics, found in onions, garlic and leeks, which are converted into anti-inflammatory chemicals by the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut.

The idea is that instead of replacing the knee joint, a doctor inserts a tube into the arteries that supply it, then injects it into tiny plastic particles.

When cartilage begins to break down, enzymes are released that cause local inflammation and pain. The theory is that the plastic particles reduce blood flow to the inside of the knee, reducing inflammation and pain.

A new study, from the University of California, Los Angeles, with 40 patients, found that within a week of GAE, their average pain scores dropped from eight out of 10 to three – and patients who previously couldn’t walk more than a few hundred meters could now walk several kilometers every day. A year later, 70 percent still had a massive reduction in their pain.

Prevention is better than cure, so to help prevent arthritis – or reduce the pain – losing weight is key, reducing joint stress and inflammation.

Simple, daily exercise can also help build the muscle to support the joint.

Another step is a diet rich in prebiotics, found in onions, garlic and leeks, which are converted into anti-inflammatory chemicals by the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut.

Studies in mice have shown that prebiotics can prevent arthritis even in severely overweight animals, and human studies are underway.