In Gloria Luong’s article in the Psychologist this month she attempts to answer this question. So forget Victor Meldrew (“I don’t believe it” fame) and comedians posing as grumpy old women; rather research shows that across adulthood negative emotions (like hate) tend to wane and positive emotions (like joy) become more prominent. In much later life (80s and 90s) this pattern reverses slightly, usually due to chronic health conditions, but not to the low levels found in people in their 20s and 30s.
Maybe because there are fewer stressors in later adulthood – such as less hours to work? And people get better at managing their stressors perhaps. Also because their emotional goals change? In other words they are more realistic with their goals… And Gloria thinks that older adults are more likely to be forgiven for making social transgressions, but I am not sure I agree with her on that one! However it is probably true that older adults are more likely to have a smaller social network that is more tightly knit and therefore people around them that are warmer and more understanding; i.e. the quality and not the quantity of friendships makes social relationships, and therefore emotional experiences, more rewarding. The thing is I am not sure whether I am getting better at regulating my emotions because I am getting older or because I am a psychologist!?!