Growing older is an inescapable part of being human, and it looks like it's going to be some time yet before we unlock the secrets of immortality. But while you might associate the ageing process with illness, infirmity, and a loss of independence, there's no need to fear what's ahead - a new survey has revealed that the average senior citizen is happier and more content than the rest of us.

The research found that over-55s are on average much more content than younger people, so it seems happiness isn't all about being young, free, and single. Pollsters got responses from 173,656 people across the US, asking questions such as "do you like what you do each day?" and "do you have supportive relationships in your life?

The results vary across regions, of course: the happiest older people were found in Hawaii, Montana, South Dakota, Alaska, and Iowa - is there some secret to contentment found in living away from the major metropolis centres, perhaps? The lowest well-being ratings were found in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Indiana. Seniors in New Mexico had the greatest sense of purpose, those in Florida had the greatest sense of social wellbeing, and North Dakota respondents recorded the highest financial wellbeing.

Free from the stresses of earning a living and bringing up children, it seems like those over the age of 55 are finding they can enjoy life like never before, even if they can't get around as speedily as they used to. Healthcare provision tends to be better for those aged over 55 and levels of depression and obesity drop after the age of 64.

"Older Americans express more satisfaction with their standard of living, worry less about money, and say they have enough money to do what they want to do - all at higher rates than their younger counterparts," the report says. It also shows older people eating better and learning more than their younger counterparts, though exercise rates drop as our bodies start to show signs of wear and tear.

Other global studies support the idea that we get happier as we get older, due to a combination of financial security, fewer day-to-day worries, and less responsibility. The majority of retired people, at least in developed nations, have more money and more time than those who are still stuck in middle age. There's experience and wisdom to consider too: studies show older people are better at dealing with negative emotions, and are more trusting of those around them, which also adds to feelings of contentment.

So don't let thoughts of getting old fill you with dread - it's probably a lot more enjoyable than you think.