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How old you feel is linked to your well-being



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WASHINGTON -- How old do you look? How old do you feel?

Answers to these questions tell a lot about how satisfied with life a person is, according to a study released during the weekend.

Those with the best well-being feel younger than they are. But they also say they look about their age or a little younger, similar to what others judge them, says Brandeis University psychologist Margie Lachman.

She and co-author Maja Putnik released their study of 302 adults ages 25 to 75 at the American Psychological Association meeting here.

Researchers asked participants to say how old they appeared compared with their true age.

They also asked other people to estimate each person's age from his photograph.

Before age 40, people were divided on whether they looked younger, older or the same as their age.

But after 40, a large majority thought they didn't look as old as their age.

Other people's estimations of a person's age had no relationship to that person's life satisfaction. And that's probably a good thing, says Debbie Then, a psychologist in Newport Beach, Calif., who does research on physical appearance.

"This shows how important your own opinion of yourself is rather than other people's opinions," Then says.

"Too many of us put too much emphasis on what other people think."

Believing you look your age or younger, but not much younger than others guess, is self-protective, Then says.

"A certain amount of self-deception may be healthy in this youth-oriented culture," Then says.

"But if you're too far off, you could be a narcissist or just deluding yourself."

Lachman sees a ray of light for those who hope to live to a ripe old age, knowing they'll have plenty of wrinkles.

Adults who felt younger than their true age had the highest levels of well-being. "That's young at heart," Lachman says. "That you can be at any age."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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