Survey: 75% of Nepalis Over 50 in the USA Attribute Their Happiness to Social Connections

Exploring the Resilience and Well-Being of Nepali Immigrants: A Journey of Happiness,
Community, and Connection

Navigating the Experience of Nepali Immigrants Over 50 in the United States

What is the one thing we all wish for? Happiness– it’s essential for our well-being. Yet, nowadays, many struggle to be happy.

In Arthur C. Brook’s book Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier, which he co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, Brooks says, “The macronutrients of happiness are enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose.” Achieving happiness is not a quick fix; instead, it’s an ongoing process, much like crafting a dish that requires a combination of various ingredients.

Regarding this matter, we can delve into the extensive happiness study conducted by the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which commenced in the 1930s. While many may presume that career success, a nutritious diet, or regular exercise are the primary keys to happiness, the study’s findings suggest otherwise. According to the research, the crucial factor contributing to happiness is the quality of relationships. The study asserts that individuals who maintain strong connections with family, friends, and community tend to experience greater joy and physical well-being than those with fewer connections.


Aging Redefined: Wisdom, Happiness, and Connection Beyond Media Stereotypes

Many perceive aging negatively, influenced by what we see in visual and social media. However, what often escapes our notice is that aging brings valuable experience, and wisdom emerges from experience. Some even argue that happiness can increase with age.

A favorite quote of mine from Jonathan Rauch’s book, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, reads, “The curve seems to be imprinted on us as a way to repurpose us for a changing role in society as we age, a role that is less about ambition and competition, and more about connection and compassion.” It is imperative to shift the narrative surrounding aging, recognizing that life can improve with age. The significance of social connections cannot be overstated, as this theme resonates consistently.

But what if you don’t already have a supportive community? Before you become too disheartened about the perceived lack of quality relationships, there are proactive ways to cultivate them. Prioritizing your relationships and expressing the importance of the people in your life is vital, highlighting the significance of community in fostering these connections.


Challenges Faced by Aging Immigrants: Navigating Barriers in a New Land

Discovering one’s community isn’t a seamless process for everyone, and the challenge is more pronounced for immigrants, especially those who relocate later in life. Adapting to a new culture takes time, presenting a formidable hurdle for older individuals. As people age, they encounter additional obstacles, and for immigrants, these barriers may be intensified due to discrimination and language barriers, impacting communication and access to essential services. This, in turn, can perpetuate more discrimination and hinder their ability to acclimate to new environments. Consequently, access to a supportive community where individuals, particularly immigrants over 50, can forge meaningful relationships becomes paramount.

After examining various studies on the quality of life for immigrants in the United States, I encountered a lack of specific information regarding Nepali immigrants. Given this gap, I took the initiative to conduct a survey. I contacted family and friends in Nepal, requesting they share the survey with Nepali immigrants aged 50 and above residing in the U.S. Despite not receiving as many responses as hoped, I gathered insights from eight participants – one man and seven women. All respondents were born in Nepal from 1966 to 1972 and journeyed to the U.S. between 1996 and 2011. The age at immigration ranged from 19 to 34, providing a diverse perspective on the experiences of Nepali immigrants in this age group.

In a recent 2022 review, “Barriers and facilitators of health among older adult immigrants in the United States: an integrative review of 20 years of literature,” experts meticulously examined two decades of peer-reviewed literature focusing on the health dynamics of older adult immigrants in the United States. The research emphasized critical barriers and facilitators of health and well-being by encompassing 145 articles, including 85 quantitative, 44 qualitative, three mixed methods, eight reviews, and five conceptual studies.

The review highlighted a lack of consensus on the definition of ‘older adult’ (typically 65 and over). It underscored the diverse experiences of older adult immigrants, emphasizing social support and isolation as pivotal factors influencing their health. The study identified disparities in the utilization and understanding of the term’ acculturation,’ shedding light on the complexities of immigrant integration.

With over 7 million older adult immigrants constituting 13.9% of the population, the top ten countries of origin included Mexico, China, the Philippines, and others. Intriguingly, most older adult immigrants were naturalized citizens, particularly those over 65.

The article notes the prerequisite of legal permanent residency for at least five years before eligibility for naturalization in the United States (per USCIS). My survey findings indicate that 75% (6 individuals) were U.S. citizens, while 25% (2 individuals) held permanent resident status.

Recent estimates from the Pew Research Center reveal a nuanced picture of the immigrant landscape in the United States, shedding light on legal status, origins, and projections. In comparison, 77% of immigrants are legally present, and nearly a quarter grapple with unauthorized status. In 2017, 45% of immigrants achieved U.S. citizenship through naturalization, and 27% held permanent resident status.

Mexico remains the primary source of the U.S. immigrant population, contributing 11.2 million individuals in 2018, comprising 25% of all immigrants. Other significant origins include China (6%), India (6%), the Philippines (4%), and El Salvador (3%). A notable shift is observed, with more Asian than Hispanic immigrants arriving yearly since 2009. Projections indicate that by 2055, Asians will surpass Hispanics as the largest immigrant group, constituting 38% of the immigrant population by 2065.

California, Texas, and Florida host nearly half (45%) of the nation’s immigrants, with Indiana accounting for 6.2%. The demographic mosaic and concentrated geographical distribution underscore the need for nuanced policies and support systems. Clearly, the number of immigrants is growing and will continue to grow, making them a significant population in the country.

In the context of older adult immigrants, language proficiency surfaces as a notable obstacle. Among immigrants residing in the U.S. for five years or less, 47% reported proficiency in English, while those with over 20 years of residence displayed a higher proficiency rate at 57% (via Pew Research Center).

However, an interesting exception arises with immigrants from Nepal, where English fluency is prevalent, offering a unique insight into linguistic dynamics within the aging immigrant population.

Nepali grandfather teaches his granddaughter the Nepali language in Texas.(Photo Source: Khasokhas)


Examining Immigrant Challenges: Education, Barriers, and Social Support Dynamics Explored

The survey encompassed seven additional questions, delving into the participants’ educational backgrounds. Among them, 50% had successfully graduated from college, while the remaining 50% had achieved graduate degrees. It’s noteworthy that, in contrast to studies involving immigrants from diverse origins, none of the respondents identified a lack of English language proficiency as a barrier to their immigrant experience.

Exploring the health disparities among older immigrants unveils a spectrum of challenges and facilitators. The landscape is multifaceted, from individual factors like English language proficiency and mental health barriers to interpersonal difficulties such as social exclusion and discrimination. Two prevalent factors influencing health outcomes were isolation and social support.

The responses varied when inquiring about Nepali immigrants’ primary challenges. Of the participants, 37.5% (3 individuals) cited a sense of discrimination based on their Nepali background, 12.5% (1 person) mentioned limited access to social support, while half of the respondents, totaling 50%, reported not encountering any notable barriers.

Isolation and social support emerge as crucial factors influencing health outcomes. Addressing this issue calls for increased community engagement to foster robust relationships because a lack of social support can lead to depression.

In my survey involving Nepali immigrants, 87.5% (7 individuals) reported having a Nepali community in close proximity, while 12.5% (1 person) indicated otherwise.

In the survey, when queried about the sources of happiness, the responses from Nepali participants revealed diverse approaches. A significant majority, 62.5% (5 individuals), emphasized the importance of visiting family and friends in the same city and other locations. Another segment, constituting 25% (2 individuals), focused on maintaining a healthy diet and exercising. Additionally, 12.5% (1 person) expressed finding joy in attending Nepali community events. Notably, six respondents, or 75%, identified connecting with others as a primary source of happiness.

Depression stands out as a significant concern among immigrants, substantiated by numerous studies.

Rhee discovered in a 2016 study that the presence or absence of social support emerged as the most potent predictor of depression. Similarly, Cummings et al. observed the same trend among older adult Kurdish refugees, emphasizing the significant impact of inadequate social support on depression in 2011. However, Liu et al. introduced a crucial caveat, highlighting the importance of healthy social support, as negative social interactions could adversely affect mental health in 2017.

Additionally, Serafica identified isolation as a contributor to emotional distress in older adult Filipino immigrants. Another study by Serafica revealed that enhanced English language skills and robust social relationships acted as protective factors against isolation in this demographic.


Aging Immigrants: Insights, Challenges, and the Vital Role of Community

We embark on the aging process from the moment of our birth, and as the years progress, the imperative to care for ourselves intensifies. While wisdom and resilience tend to increase with age, our bodies demand greater attention. According to the Successful Aging Theory, three fundamental tenets of well-being come into play, and they are “low risk of disease and disease-related disability; maintenance of high mental and physical function; and continued engagement with life” (per Successful Aging 2.0: Conceptual Expansions for the 21st Century).

In one of the final survey questions, participants were asked about aspects they appreciate about living in the U.S. The responses varied, with 37.5% (3 individuals) highlighting the convenience of lifestyle, including better access to transportation, more reliable infrastructure, and improved amenities. Another 37.5% (3 individuals) expressed appreciation for healthcare quality compared to Nepal. Additionally, 25% (2 individuals) mentioned less political corruption as a positive aspect of living in the U.S.

In conclusion, my survey findings shed light on the experiences of Nepali immigrants aged 50 and above in the United States. Contrary to some general trends identified in broader immigrant studies, Nepalis in this demographic did not encounter significant barriers, attributing their relatively smooth transition to high proficiency in English and the presence of a supportive Nepali community nearby.

For those who may not already have a supportive community, proactive efforts to cultivate relationships become paramount. This is especially true for immigrants, who may face additional challenges, including discrimination and language barriers. The survey results indicate that access to a supportive community is vital for immigrants over 50 to forge meaningful connections.

The survey provides a nuanced understanding of the experiences of Nepali immigrants, emphasizing the importance of linguistic proficiency and community support in mitigating potential challenges. As we navigate the complexities of immigrant integration, fostering a sense of belonging and building strong social connections emerges as a powerful tool in enhancing the well-being of immigrants in the country.

This article was written with the support of a journalism fellowship from The Gerontological Society of America, The Journalists Network on Generations, and The NIHCM Foundation.