According to Harero & Extremera happiness enhancing strategies are related to personality types and with higher levels of optimism and self-esteem these individuals will participate more in meaningful daily activities and will show a greater level of life satisfaction than those individuals who are inactive. While others have argued that defensive pessimism protects older adults in increased risk of loss. According to this view foreseeing a dark future might aid the person to take improved precautions which might lead to better life satisfaction of older adults.According to a study by Richard, Laforest, Dufresne, & Sapinski, older individuals provide the most important information about intrapersonal factors such as personal growth and personal qualities which are often overlooked by health promotion interventions. By incorporating these factors into a needs analysis on older individuals it could contribute significantly to identify issues to be addressed by possible interventions which could contribute significantly to an increase in life satisfaction experienced by the elderly in South Africa.
Social and Leisure Activities
There are two theoretical perspectives relating to social activity; disengagement activity and activity theory.
Disengagement theory revolves around the idea that society withdraws from the elderly and the process is mutual and reciprocal and does not have a negative impact on the elderly. According to the activity theory, the more actively involved older people stay in their social activities and roles, the greater the increase in experienced life satisfaction. Participation in leisure activities has also been associated with better health and self-rated life satisfaction. According to McGuinn, & Mosher-Ashley (2000) more females than men enjoy and participate in leisure activities and self-generated activities spent with others for e.g. a game of cards enables social contact which leads to an increase in life satisfaction. A study by Nakahara (2013) found greater life satisfaction has been reported by older adults who do volunteer work.
Marital Status and Family
Relations International research results also showed that living together with a close person is clearly conducive to higher life quality in at least three spheres: subjective, psychosocial and metaphysical. This also supports the view that an elderly person’s life satisfaction is also associated by marital status. In South Africa there is a larger proportion of women reaching old age than men. This issue contributes to the growing problem of widowhood and does not only influence women’s support structure causing them to become lonely, but also places more financial strain on females who had traditionally didn’t have to carry the responsibility.
Lombard & Kruger identified how the elderly could be empowered through their care giver role by finding meaning in contributing positively to the family and society; however this doesn’t mean that their vulnerability should be overlooked by society and government.
Raubenheimer, Louw, Van Ede, & Louw, discuss living arrangements of the elderly and how it effects on their behaviour and feelings toward themselves, key themes from this study include living situations of the elderly in relation to communities, neighbourhoods and housing situations. Social environment refers to a person’s social support system which involves: network, type, and quality.
Network refers to the density and supportiveness of family members. Type refers to the level of interaction involved in the process of receiving support. Quality has to do with emotional support which can predict present happiness and overall life satisfaction better than social contact alone. Although quality has proven to be more valuable than quantity of social support, in South Africa older persons are at risk of losing their social support systems. This is mainly due to the rural-to-urban migration where more young people are heading to the city areas to find employment. Seeing that South Africa has a very high divorce rate it could also affect social support from families there is a tendency of the non-custodial parent to receive little support from children in later life.
Life satisfaction of the elderly seems to be influenced by the size and geographic position of their communities. It has been reported that older individuals have a higher sense of life satisfaction if they live in smaller communities and in rural communities than those who live in urban and large communities.
Although the elderly living in urban areas have better access to necessary services to meet their needs, the greater life satisfaction experienced by the elderly in rural areas seems to be attributed to better integration of elderly people into the rural communities.
The degree that neighbourhoods seem to impact on the life satisfaction of the elderly seems to be dependent on subjective opinions of the elderly as opposed to objective reality. In other words, perceptions about neighbourhoods play a vital role in how it affects the elderly psychologically. Neighbourhoods comprise of two sub categories; crime and structure of the neighbourhood. Neighbourhood concerns such as high crime levels where older individuals run the risk of being targeted by criminals because of their “frailty” which increases the odds of older individuals to become victims of crime. The exact data on the prevalence of elderly in South Africa affected by crime is unknown; however, it seems as if the elderly are more often victims of economic crimes such as fraud. Another important aspect to consider is that fear of crime and becoming a victim could also impact negatively on life satisfaction.
Structure of neighbourhoods relates to age-integrated neighbourhoods (comprised of various ages) and age segregated neighbourhoods (majority are elderly people). The literature relating to life satisfaction and structures of neighbourhoods vary and it seems to be specific according to the individuals’ personal or cultural preference. The types of housing and living arrangements also play an important role in the experience of life satisfaction of older adults. Two significant aspects are satisfaction with housing and residential stability. It has been reported that white older adults are more satisfied with their housing than black older adults. Raubenheimer, Louw, Van Ede, & Louw , identified the following reasons for being dissatisfied with housing: economic factors leading to poor standards or quality of housing, lack of household amenities, overcrowded homes and lack of security, stress related to multi-generational living, loneliness and other disturbances such as noise. Residential stability seems to create a sense of belonging and integration into society, thus contributing to greater life satisfaction.
Infrastructure and Safety
In South Africa the growing poverty and lack of infrastructure in underdeveloped communities leave the elderly vulnerable and isolated. This issue ranges from poorly developed roads, sidewalks to lack of affordable quality housing in good areas where services are easily accessible. These problems often contribute to older people’s daily frustrations such as transport problems, home maintenance and lack of necessary amenities, while this is often overlooked or seen as daily hassles it has a major impact on life satisfaction and should not be overlooked.
Although South Africa seems to be on par with protecting the rights of older people in society according to The Act on Older Persons, No. 13 of 2006 it seems as if problems arise at the implementation level. Special intervention need to be initiated to help older persons in the heavy load of caring for the younger generation. This could be in the form of job creation for the younger generation, social assistance and health support to lessen the burden of dependency on older persons. Government and practitioners should conceptualise intervention strategies to better understand the needs of the elderly to find a way forward to the improvement of life satisfaction of the growing ageing population in South Africa.