Living the Third Chapter Artfully: Happiness, Creativity and the Older Adult

By Zausner, Judith | Aging Today, November/December 2010 | Go to article overview

Living the Third Chapter Artfully: Happiness, Creativity and the Older Adult


Zausner, Judith, Aging Today


Happiness is big business. There are hundreds of thousands of books on the subject, and billions of dollars are spent on pills and psychotiierapy visits in search of it. Yet happiness remains a temporary and, for some, an elusive state. Mental health is based on responding appropriately to experiences and, with life's ups and downs, no sane person can be 100 percent happy. So we fluctuate.

We are happy, then we are unhappy, and then we find happiness once again. We desire euphoria even though it does not have the stability of an inanimate object or the permanence of a tattoo.

Happiness research provides surprising data. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says that a year after a person wins the lottery and a year after a person becomes paraplegic and loses functions of his or her legs, their happiness quota is the same. He cites a study suggesting that, with only a few exceptions, a major life trauma longer than three months past has no impact on the subject's happiness.

CAN HAPPINESS BE MADE?

Gilbert theorizes that humans have the ability to synthesize happiness and that we adjust to create happiness. For example, in "Aging Artists on the Creativity of Their Old Age" in Creativity Research Journal (April 1997), Martin Lindauer and colleagues quote a female artist in her 60s. "I can no longer make very large projects, but making things can be rewarding also. My energy has diminished somewhat, and a lot of time has been lost recovering from surgery, but I have never stopped working. I have a compulsion to make things of my own design. I am fortunate in that my mind seems to be intact."

This woman uses her positive attitude consistently by recognizing the problem, creating positive acceptance (synthesizing happiness) and moving forward with gratitude. It also exemplifies her flexible and resilient approach to living.

So we have the opportunity to be happy through a genuine experience (e.g., winning the lottery) or a synthetically adjusted experience. However happiness comes to you, numerous studies have shown that people who profess to be happy tend to be optimistic, more social and unencumbered by failure or the unknown They experience greater control of their lives.

LOOKING THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS

When you are feeling good, life is easier and more fun; the sun is always shining. It's easier to tackle projects and anticipate success because failure and fear are not on your dashboard. To explore and discover, to socialize with others and to be the positive rudder in your life is empowering. You view life through a different lens.

Psychologist Adam Anderson's studies have shown the value of being happy in a person's approach to processing information. "With a positive mood, you actually get more access to things you would normally ignore," he says. "Instead of looking through a porthole, you have a landscape or panoramic view of the world."

Creativity requires unique thinking to incorporate sometimes disparate elements. When you are feeling upbeat, you can embrace your world and respond positively to elements, and you are therefore more open and flexible to integrating them. …

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Living the Third Chapter Artfully: Happiness, Creativity and the Older Adult
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