Category: Maximizing Quality of Life

20 - Instilling the Art of Happiness in Community Dwelling Older Adults

By 2030 older adults will comprise 20% of the population in the US.  As a result, late life depression is becoming a more significant public health problem.  Depression is associated with increased mortality and decreased physical, cognitive, and social functioning. Research shows that positive psychology interventions can enhance subjective well-being and reduce depression, however, the efficacy of these programs with older adults has not been widely examined. The present study sought to examine the short and long term impact of a positive mental health intervention designed to enhance happiness levels and overall mental wellbeing in older adults.

The 8 week Art of Happiness course was conducted at 2 local senior centers with the goals of enhancing positive mental well-being and decreasing negative mood states in older adults. Each 90 minute class examined a different topic each week: (1) defining happiness, (2) stress management, (3) reflecting on happiness, (4) compassion and human connection, (5) forgiveness, (6) transforming suffering, (7) mindfulness, and (8) humor. Participants were provided, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Cutler, and a journal. Pre and post questionnaires assessed, life satisfaction, depression, stress, mindfulness, arousal states, and subjective happiness, as well as demographic and health information.

The 32 participants who completed the course were mostly married (43.8%), female (87.5%) and Caucasian (91%) with a mean age of 74 years of age (53-93).  There was a significant time effect controlling for age, gender, and health issues for happiness (F= 7.33; p<.05), mood state of tiredness (F= 18.95; p<.0001),and mindfulness constructs of non-judging (F= 5.15; p<.05),and non-reactivity (F=3.74; p<.05),stress (F=8.73; p<.05), and life satisfaction (F=3.58, p<.05).

These results suggest that in older adults, changes in positive mental health may be maintained after a positive psychology program ends. Programs like “The Art of Happiness,” which emphasize positive aspects of well-being may potentially buffer older adult population against poor mental health by improving subjective happiness and mental well-being thus assisting the older adult to remain independent. Findings warrant further research to foster positive aging and mental wellbeing in older adult populations by incorporating these types of programs into senior centers.


Elizabeth Orsega-Smith

Associate professor
University of Delaware

Dr. Orsega-Smith is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Delaware in the Department of Behavioral Health & Nutrition. She received her BS from The Pennsylvania State University in Exercise Science, MS from East Stroudsburg University in Cardiac Rehabilitation and Primary Prevention, and her PhD from the Pennsylvania State University in Biobehavioral Health. She is the director of the graduate Health promotion program at the University of Delaware. She currently teaching BHAN 335 Aging and Health and has supervised numerous students in summer service learning projects in the local aging community sites. Her research emphasis has been centered around the older adult population exploring the relationship between physical activity behavior and physical and mental health. Most recently her work has focused on the use of exergames in the community and the impact on health. She initially has examined Wii bowling and the caloric expenditure in the older adult population and expanded to other programs using the Wii. By using the Wii Fit as a vehicle for balance enhancement programs, Dr. Orsega-Smith, has implemented the programs in several senior centers in the Northern New Castle Delaware area. The work has also utilized other exergaming systems including the KINECT with the older adult population. She has also worked on intergenerational program to connect grandchildren with their grandparents to improve both fitness and health along with the relationship between the two generations.

Steve Goodwin

Associate Professor
University of Delaware

Dr Goodwin has taught the Art of Happiness for multiple years at the University of Delaware. He was the co _PI on this project and has worked with a variety of populations including youth, college students, individuals with disabilities and the older adult population.

Katie Greenawalt

Extension Educator
Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension

Ms. Greenawalt has completed her MS in Health Promotion and is currently in extension services. As a MS student Katie, worked on this project and delivered the intervention working with the participants. She also assisted with the data collection.

Jennie Turner

Wellness Coordinator
Wellworks For You

Ms Turner completed her MS in Health Promotion in May 2017. She is currently serving as Wellness Coordinator for Wellworks For You where she implements and evaluates health programming for employee worksites. As a MS student, she co-delivered the intervention to program participants and assisted in data collection.

Erica Rathie

Graduate Student Research Assistant
University of Delaware

Erica received her BS in Health Behavior Science from the University of Delaware in 2017. She taught the Art of Happiness classes and also was involved in research data collection. In addition, she has conducted several seminars on happiness.