Joy, an emotion that transcends the age barrier

The Bottom Line

  • Optimal aging is a complex combination of physical, psychological, social and cultural factors.
  • Social connections and participation in meaningful activities are important sources of joy.
  • Joy has positive effects on mental and physical health, as well as quality of life.

By 2050, there will be more than 2 billion people over the age of 60 on the planet. Are you one of them? How do you view aging, especially in a context where the media is bombarding us with images of sporty, fulfilled seniors without wrinkles?

As we age, we are more likely to experience chronic conditions, reduced mobility, frailty, and social isolation, which can limit our ability to participate in activities that bring us joy. Is this your case?

But optimal aging is not just about looking young or having a better running time, it is also and above all about living a meaningful life!

Is the search for happiness, joy and pleasure in life important to cope with the physical, social and cognitive changes caused by aging?

What research tells us

A recent evidence synthesis identified 11 studies that examined the concept of joy among older adults. These studies included a total of 1,487 people aged 65 and over. These studies were conducted in care settings, retirement homes and community settings, places where care is more focused on well-being and joy as individuals enter the final phase of their lives.

Overall, this synthesis reveals that joy among older adults has received little attention in the scientific literature, even though it is highlighted as being important to older adults themselves in terms of health and well-being. That said, the synthesis highlights two sources of joy: having social interactions and participating in meaningful activities.

The importance of social interactions

Actively connecting, talking, and sharing experiences with others, whether family, friends, or caregiving staff, contribute to feelings of connectedness, belonging and community, as well as the experience of joy.

When you chat with friends or family, it's a safe bet that you also talk about the good old days: it's often an opportunity to remember the positive things you accomplished or experienced in the past and to 'feel joy about it. Being socially connected and knowing you have a network of people you can rely on also has health benefits.

The importance of participating in meaningful activities

Many older adults have hobbies and participate in various activities, such as gardening, painting, dancing, reading, sewing, music. Regardless of your health and your ability to participate more or less actively in your favourite activities, doing things you love probably gives you a great sense of joy and well-being. Even if you are no longer able to garden, spending time in nature, in a park, or in a garden has beneficial effects on your overall health. Even if you are no longer able to play an instrument, listening to your favourite music likely sparks joy, allows you to reminisce and relax. If you are a believer, faith or spirituality helps give meaning to your life, which can bring you joy and peace of mind.

Do you like social contact and want to help others? Whether within your healthcare facility or in your community, look for opportunities to volunteer! Being part of a committee or working for the common good allows you to build connections with people of all ages, to feel satisfaction, to achieve your goals, to break through loneliness and ultimately to cultivate joy!

What are you waiting for to do activities that are important to you and that make you feel good?

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Author Details


  1. Goodwin VA, Hall AJ, Bethel A, Taylor E, Tatnell L, Turner M, Frost J. Understanding joy amongst older people: A scoping review. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. 2023 Jul 6;115:105118. doi: 10.1016/j.archger.2023.105118. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37516061.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.