Creativity and Aging

The peak years of creativity has been a subject of inquiry among many developmental psychologists. Kastenbaum, a social scientist, believes “the end of life often stimulates that creativity. It’s then when people who are about to jump into the void can sometimes be more creative and most able to transform their situation. At times like this, people can be tense, actually more alive.” Creativity can, in fact, triumph over the debilitation of an aging body as it has with many individuals.

The researcher Simonton has studied the aged and their creative genius and concludes that, “Creative productions are not necessarily tied to chronology but to successive acts of self-actualization.” A definition of self-actualization is “the full realization of one’s creative intellectual and social potential through one’s internal drive versus external drive like money, status, power” (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary).

The creative act, as it has been described in the literature, tends to emerge out of the energy that is expended by our thoughts, feelings and imagination. According to social scientists, the stages of creativity are preparation, illumination and elaboration. The central activity of all human beings is to create meaning in our lives. How, you may ask?

  • Maintain a personal journal of the day to day accomplishments and their influence on your thoughts and decisions.
  • Create a life history that integrates the healthy memories of past experiences with family and friends.
  • Involve yourself with music and poetry. Music as a universal experience can be emotionally comforting while offering multiple opportunities for creative self-expression.

It has been documented that the “products” of creativity are far less important than the attitudes it produces. Curiosity, inquisitiveness, wonderment, puzzlement and craving are those suggested creative attitudes.

The collective power of older persons has already brought about many changes in society. Power is in fact the gateway to multiple resources and recognition.

The age equality movement consists of the many older citizens who are returning to school. Also, the revolution of older people in movements such as the Gray Panthers have made significant changes at the political and social levels.

It has often been heard that the old no longer can offer anything creative as a result of a recognizable illness, an aging body, a slowing of mind and physical movement. Here are several disclaimers that contradict these erroneous assumptions.

  • Cervantes completed part two of Don Quixote at age 68.
  • Chevruel began the study of gerontology at age 90 and published his last scientific paper at age 100.
  • George Bernard Shaw was 94 when one of his last plays was first produced.
  • Benjamin Franklin was a framer of the Constitution when he was 80.
  • Golda Meir was 71 when she became Prime Minister of Israel.
  • Verdi composed Falstaff at age 80.

The world of middle-aged and older adults is much different now from what it was 40 years ago. Optimal health, opportunity and ageism have shifted markedly for the better.

Music is a creative act that has kept elders going. For instance, Pablo Casals, the great cellist, played each morning into his 90s to limber his fingers that were bound by rheumatoid arthritis. Music is a remarkable rejuvenator for those who enjoy its mystical powers.

Here are several suggestions for a creative environment. They can act as a visual as well as an aural benefit and that enhances our sense of well-being:

Art – Try pastel, charcoal, oils and attempt drawing a simple portrait;

Music – Listen to a variety of musical genre from opera to Broadway and discuss the feelings they evoke for you and others;

Movement – Attempt performing a simple dance step that fits your mood. If a partnet is available, begin with a two-step, otherwise known as the fox trot;

Recreation – Practice regularly scheduled periods of activity such as daily outdoor walks preferably with a friend or acquaintance, watch a long awaited movie with someone, limit time at the computer, phone a friend or relative you haven’t spoken to recently, resolve a conflict with someone you love;

Poetry – Recite some poetry, privately or with a group; discuss with like-minded “poets” a contemporary poem; try forming a haiku (Japanese three line poem); “sing a poem” that can be set to a familiar aria, ballad, bluegrass, etc.; try memorizing several lines from your favorite poem.

Creativity is a multi-faceted process that can only occur if one seizes the various opportunities that are available.

Here is a mantra for achieving a creative and happy existence that is within our reach.

  1. Maintain your faith in that which brings you a greater peace of mind.
  2. Maintain an optimistic outlook on life and share it with others.
  3. Engage in activities that promote family and community harmony.
  4. Practice optimal health habits based on sound and current medical advice.
  5. Accept unsolvable limitations and move on.
  6. Offer a kind word or two to those less fortunate.
  7. Volunteers your time to a worthy cause.

In essence, the prospect for living a creative life is based on two ideas: practice a continuous spiritual and physical growth, and learn new things while enjoying the many benefits that it affords.

It has been eight months since the start of this terrible pandemic. Yet I still believe we will emerge to a brighter tomorrow. I am reminded of eight grueling weeks of basic training in the US Air Force. I believed it would never end. I also believed, at times, I was fated not to survive. Well I did! We will come out of this crisis, stronger than ever before and more determined to enjoy the creative aspects of a safe and meaningful life.

Little Orphan Annie sang the message on Broadway that we all should hear, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” It’s coming, and you can bet on it!

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