One of the clichés of retirement is the hard-driving business man who has no idea what to do with himself once he’s left his career. All he does is drive his wife crazy. I think we can dispense with that stereotype (along with the bumbling Dad we see in too many commercials). In 2017 the clichés of how we age are being challenged and redefined. Thank goodness!
The Creative Age by Gene Cohen is one book that I often come back to. Dr. Cohen was a pioneer in the study of geriatrics and had a special interest in how to optimize the aging process. I am sure you won’t be surprised that creative pursuits, in whatever activity you choose, are a huge advantage in aging. Dr. Cohen identifies four key reasons:
- Creativity strengthens our morale in later life. Creativity makes us more emotionally resilient and better able to cope with life’s diversity and losses. Just as exercise improves our muscle tone, when we are creatively engaged, our emotional tone is elevated. I know one veterinary chiropractor who asks for photos of the departed old dogs she has treated. She paints them as a way of managing her own grief. “I don’t paint well”, she says, “but it helps me feel better.”
- Creativity contributes to physical health as we age. Findings from psychoneuroimmunological (!) studies suggest that creativity promotes an immune function boost, especially among older persons. Brain research has found that being engaged in the creative process puts the mind in the same state as praying. That calm and focused brain state is almost meditative and very healing. [Creative Healing is a good source for more about this topic].
- Creativity enriches relationships. Knowing there is a potential for creativity in later life helps us come to terms with the aging process. It also helps adult children to know that their parents can achieve a more satisfying aging experience. I have a new friend, Linda, whose daughter invited her to participate in a fund-raising event through Team in Training. Linda now has done multiple half-marathons and walks a LOT faster than I can. This has been a wonderful way for mother and daughter to connect to each other and with their walking/running teams.
- Creativity is our greatest legacy. To be creative as we age provides an invaluable role model of what is possible as we age–for our families and for society. Historically, creativity has distinguished elders as ‘keepers’ of the culture. While most of us will not win the Nobel Peace Prize we can use our creativity to shape and enhance our lives and the lives of those around us. Not only do we alter perceptions and defy stereotypes about aging. We might also create something of value. I recently had the privilege of exploring a book made by the youngest son in a large family whose mother emigrated from Croatia. His large, beautiful book is a tribute to his mother, a wonderful woman who became an artist herself at 65, and to the larger immigrant experience. What a treasure for his family!It’s easy to feel guilty about pursuing creative interests. “Oh, I shouldn’t spend the money” or “I don’t deserve to take all that time for myself.” But it’s not selfish. It’s healthy. So, go already.