Social downgrading is a self-protective strategy that involves the comparison of oneself with less fortunate individuals. Older adults believe that other people’s problems are more serious than their own across several domains, such as children, fitness, and finances (Heckhausen and Brim). One type of comparison is a downward social comparison. For example, an older woman who uses a cane may compare herself with an older woman who is confined to a wheelchair. A second kind of comparison (a temporal comparison) involves evaluating one’s present circumstances against past conditions. For example, an older man who is struggling financially might compare his current situation with the economic hardship that he endured in the Great Depression.
In addition to comparisons, older people may maintain their SWB by minimizing the gap between their ideal and actual selves. Older people perceive their actual and ideal selves to be much more closely aligned than younger people do. Finally, older people may protect themselves by shuffling their priorities. Flexible goal attainment—the willingness to adjust one’s goals in order to accommodate changing circumstances—increases with age (Brandtstädter and Greve).