Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy In Adult Development And Aging Degree
Katherine Judge, Ph.D.
Jennifer Stanley, Ph.D.
Living life well is difficult to define; however, research has burgeoned over the last 40 years examining the concept of well-being. Past work has approached well-being in different ways where some emphasize feeling good in the here-and-now (i.e., subjective well-being), and others emphasize flourishing despite life’s existential challenges (i.e., eudaimonic well-being). Though age-based stereotypes are predominantly negative, older adults report living generally positive lives (i.e., higher positive feelings, more meaning in life). This phenomenon is called the “paradox of well-being” (PWB), and it remains a perplexing phenomenon in emotional aging research. Most prevailing theories assume a pro-hedonic approach where positive is good and negative is bad, but a utilitarian approach may be more advantageous, which views emotions based on their usefulness, not their pleasant or unpleasant nature. Research on utilitarian emotion has uncovered remarkable findings such that negative emotions can predict adaptive well-being outcomes in certain contexts. Furthermore, there is theoretical and empirical justification for the investigation of mixed emotions. Despite evidence suggesting an age-related increase in mixed emotions, there remains a large gap in the literature regarding how mixed emotions are experienced. This study sheds light on how age influences in-the-moment mixed emotion reactions using a cross-sectional sample of younger, middle-aged, and older adults. Using a guided reactivity paradigm, in-the-moment mixed emotions were examined across three time points. Dynamic affect changes were then examined in relation to well-being. Overall age similarities in mixed emotion intensity emerged; however, some key differences in affect v trajectories became apparent, with older adults being more reactive overall. Beyond these differences, there were clear age-related increases in well-being. Most importantly, older adults had higher well-being and the greatest affect changes, but mixed emotions were better explained by well-being rather than age. This preliminary evidence links mixed emotions to age and well-being in a manner that suggests utility could be a partial mechanism by which the PWB occurs. Ultimately, this novel approach to the PWB provides some support for mixed emotions as a way in which older adults may maintain overall positivity despite negative life circumstances.
Hamlilton, Lucas J., "When Positive And Negative Collide: Mixed Emotions In Adulthood And Old Age" (2021). ETD Archive. 1294.