25 Successful Aging

Developmental Psychology


  1. Alexandra M. Freund1,
  2. Jana Nikitin1,
  3. Michaela Riediger2

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop206025

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Freund, A. M., Nikitin, J. and Riediger, M. 2012. Successful Aging. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 6:VI:25.

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Zurich, Department of Psychology, Zurich, Switzerland

  2. 2

    Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Max Planck Research Group “Affect Across the Lifespan”, Berlin, Germany

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Historically, life expectancy has only recently extended into old age and has dramatically increased over the past 100 years. Early accounts of aging have characterized this phase in life as one of more or less uniform decline and focused on the question how people can react to and cope with the many losses they encounter. Although this question remains one of the topics of aging research, more recent approaches to the notion of “successful aging” also address the question of how older adults proactively shape their own aging process. In this chapter, we review the state of research on the topic of successful aging. Early approaches focused on the question “what is successful aging?” by outlining general criteria for aging well. More recent approaches have shifted the focus to the question “how do people age successfully?” These models—socioemotional selectivity theory (Carstensen, 2006; Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999), the model of selection, optimization, and compensation (P. Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Freund, 2008), the model of assimilative and accommodative coping (Brandstädter & Renner, 1990), or the model of primary and secondary control (Heckhausen & Schulz, 1995; Heckhausen, Wrosch, & Schulz, 2010)—emphasize the role of proactive emotional and motivational processes for aging successfully. By setting goals in accordance with one's resources as well as age-related concerns (e.g., prioritizing emotional goals over the acquisition of information), by adapting goals and standards to the changing availability of resources (e.g., to health-related decline), and by disengaging from unavailable goals, older people can maintain high levels of functioning and subjective well-being. Hopefully, the identification of processes underlying successful aging will help to enhance the quality of older persons' lives in the future.


  • aging;
  • subjective well-being;
  • action theory;
  • motivation;
  • emotion