Grandmas Max Out on Joy Index


It was my esthetician who told me I did not look a day over 35. The smoothness of this talk was coarsened by the sum I then gave her to sustain this apparition of relative youth. Cost be buggered, I thought, being several hundred days older than the texture of my skin (apparently) allows. Give me expensive French time in a bottle as I speed anyhow unto death.

Thoughts of death and ageing tend to preoccupy anyone older than Nicole Richie and younger than John McCain. (McCain, I imagine, is far too occupied making his pitiable energy policy look good and keeping his beer-selling wife away from the Vicodin to trouble about such matters as age.) And so, of course, they trouble me and, to a lesser degree, my esthetician. I worry, just a little, about the Seven Signs of Ageing as they are writ on my visage. But I worry more about the social exclusion that I always thought would encroach with the accumulating years.

In short, I imagined my only regular social contact at 60 would be with my cats and aforementioned beauty therapist.

Not so, apparently. According to a recent study from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, wrinklies are more inclined to suck the marrow out of a social encounter.

Professor von Hippel, who must have the cheeriest name ever associated with an academic project, set out to study two groups. One was aged from 18 to 30 and the other from 66 to 91.

Forlornly, for my own selfish purposes, women several hundred days older than 35 were not included as respondents. Nonetheless, his findings strike me as interesting.

The research team found that although Generation Richie tended to have twice as many social encounters as McCain’s contemporaries, the latter group was enjoying itself at least twice as much.

Now, I’m not at all certain what Index of Joy the, doubtlessly joyful von Hippel used for his measure. While this is likely to remain a mystery, his data seems intriguing nonetheless.

Those in the senior group spend twice as much time in solitude than their younger counterparts. Even so, Team Richie reports a dearth of social satisfaction. Heavens. Perhaps the company of a Madden brother is not as scintillating as one might initially suspect.
In the habit of those enamoured by science, von Hippel leans toward a purely scientific conclusion to his survey. Apparently, there’s a bit of the brain that emits negative emotions. Apparently, it’s called the amygdale. Apparently, this thingie recedes, like collagen, over the years. So, older persons, such as the now Vicodin-free Cindy McCain, are more inclined to jollity.

I have no faculty for reason and only a passing knowledge of science. (That is, if one disallows my comprehensive understanding of French and Swiss anti-ageing ointments from consideration.) Nonetheless, I refuse to believe von Hippel is entirely right in his deductions.

It’s not Team Richie’s youth but, rather, the world they inhabit that reduces their social satisfaction. I’d argue that the quality and strength of social interaction has significantly altered over past decades Psychologists may not concur. But sociologists certainly do. That is, where social ties once had a vigour that sociologists would describe as "thick" they have now become "thin".

Team Richie is immersed in an emaciated world of insubstantial Facebook connectivity.

Whatever the case, I will almost certainly maintain healthy relations with my esthetician. And speed more happily unto death.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.