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Research news: A majority of middle-aged people show a high level of mental well-being

A recent study at the University of Jyväskylä has found a surprisingly high level of mental well-being among middle-aged individuals.

The study examined multiple dimensions of mental well-being, including satisfaction with life and psychological and social well-being. Psychological well-being refers to an individual’s sense of having a purpose in life and personal growth, whereas social well-being is characterized by a sense of environmental mastery and acceptance.

Research Director Katja Kokko from the Gerontology Research Center at the University of Jyväskylä: “Our analyses provided two new perspectives to the study of mental well-being: First, we included positive dimensions of mental well-being and did not consider it only as an absence of mental distress. Second, while it is common to analyze an average developmental trend of mental well-being over time, we looked for groups of individuals differing in their developmental trajectories.”

Mental well-being was assessed when the study participants were 36, 42, and 50 years old. During this follow-up period, four groups of mental well-being emerged. 29% of the participants were classified as having a high level of life satisfaction as well as psychological and social well-being throughout the study period. Further, 47% had a relatively high and 22% a moderately high level of mental well-being. Conversely, about 3% of the participants had a relatively low score in all the well-being dimensions from age 36 to 50.

“It was a bit unexpected how stable mental well-being was in mid-adulthood and that a majority of the middle-aged had such a high level of well-being,” Kokko explains. “However, it should be noted that the follow-up intervals were rather long, about 6 to 8 years, and it is possible that within those years mental well-being fluctuated but then returned to an individual’s characteristic level.”

The groups of mental well-being were compared to each other in other areas of functioning as well. The individuals on the trajectories for high, relatively high, and moderate well-being had more satisfying relationships, more favorable working careers, and fewer diseases than those individuals on the low well-being trajectory. Few differences between the groups were observed in physical or cognitive functioning.

“We found that only stable low mental well-being, developed over a lengthy period of time, was a risk factor for unfavorable relationships, working career, and health,” Kokko says. “In older adulthood, mental well-being will possibly also relate to physical and cognitive functioning when there is more variation among the individuals in these areas.”

The present analyses shed light on the development of multi-dimensionally assessed mental well-being in mid-adulthood. They further help identify those groups of individuals who are at the greatest risk. Improving their mental well-being can contribute to functioning in old adulthood.

The article is based on the Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development (JYLS), where the development of the same, age-cohort representative, participants (369 initially) has been followed from age 8 to 50.

Further information:
Katja Kokko, Gerontology Research Center, University of Jyväskylä, tel. +358 40 805 3500, email:

Article: Kokko, K., & Feldt, T. (2017). Longitudinal profiles of mental well-being as correlates of successful aging in middle age. International Journal of Behavioral Development. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0165025417739177

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