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The over-thirty crowd was once subject to ridicule by younger people, and anyone past age fifty was definitely "over the hill." But in a single generation, the view of life after fifty has changed dramatically. Today society is shaped by unprecedented growth in the number of people over fifty, shifting patterns of opportunity and responsibility at work and at home, and advances in healthcare that offer the promise of longer and more active lives. In this fascinating, life-affirming book, Dr. Cohen debunks harmful myths about aging and illuminates the biological and emotional foundations of creative thought and expression. He offers compelling evidence that the unique combination of age, experience, and creativity can produce exciting inner growth and infinite potential for anyone.
"What, retired persons can be creative? Gene Cohen has done it again. He has broken down another of our stereotyped images of being old. Our hand-me-down ideas of what it islike to be old don't stand up to his facts and analysis in his book. Older persons have been creative and can be encouraged to be creative. The encouraged and released creativity can be productive not only for the older person but also for their families and society. Let's listen to these released creative voices of experience. Thank you Dr. Cohen for freeing us from out-of-date models of what it is like to be old." (— James E. Birren, Associate Director of the UCLA Center on Aging)
"A fascinating and enjoyable book that goes a long way toward destroying the pervasive myths about aging...I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is must reading for anyone who want to plan wisely for the 'rest of life.'"( -- Horace B. Deets, Executive Director, AARP)
"This is essential reading for those with elderly parents as well as for those entering their twilight years. Highly recommended."(—Library Journal)
You see things: and say "Why?"
But I dream things that never were: and say "Why not?"-- George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah
The human spirit of creativity is indomitable. It has uplifted lives in every civilization and every era, from dirt playgrounds to marble palaces. It has survived catastrophic acts of inhumanity, ignorance, and apathy, to bloom in the darkest days as well as the brightest hours of human existence. It has illuminated our lives with flashes of singular brilliance in advances in human understanding and in the softer, warmer light of words or deeds that daily enrich the human experience.
Each one of us is endowed with the spirit of creativity, whether we recognize it or not. We see it easily in the young child who turns a bed into a sailing ship and pillows into fortresses. We readily admire it in the brilliant pianist or determined inventor. We celebrate it in the ingenious efforts of survival by those caught in the path of nature's fury or the storms of war and other human cruelty. But we tend to overlook the same creative energy when, transformed by age and experience, it leads a retired chemist to become an education activist, or prompts a once travel-shy homemaker to take her first vacation abroad. Creative potential is there in all of us, an inner resource, renewable and vibrant, no matter how much or how little it is used. This creative spirit has the power to change our lives at every age, and to do so in quite different ways as we get older.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw believed in lifelongcreativity. He espoused this belief in his writing, reflected in the chapter's opening quote, and he practiced it throughout his lifetime. Despite adversity in the earlier days of his writing career, Shaw persevered. He wrote Back to Methuselah when he was sixty-six, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925, at the age of sixty-nine. He continued to write for more than two decades and was at work on a comedy when he died at age ninety-four.
Shaw's contribution to literature is of historic measure, and not only for the pleasure of scholars. Like so many products of the creative spirit, his ideas found new expression in the lives of others. Years after the playwright died, when Sen. Robert Kennedy repeated Shaw's urging to "dream things that never were: and say, 'Why not?' " it was to inspire a new generation of creative social and political action that would, itself, earn a prominent place in history.
As we explore the powerful potential that creativity brings to us as we age, we can begin by posing Shaw's question anew. Each of us, in our own life, needs to dream things that have not happened for us and ask: "Why not?" After all, modern science and medicine have strengthened the foundations of life as we age. Preliminary research and evidence from life around us makes clear that creativity is a catalyst for change of the best kind, with benefits that are immediate, long-lasting, and within the reach of every person. Even more interesting is that as we age, some key ingredients for creativity--life experience and the long view-are only enhanced. In studies of aging people and in my work with them, four aspects of creativity stand out:
1. Creativity strengthens our morale in later life. Creativity allows us to alter our experience of problems, and sometimes to transcend them, in later life. Part of the nature of creativity is its engaging and sustaining quality--no matter what our actual physical condition, we feel better when we are able to view our circumstances with fresh perspective and express ourselves with some creativity. Creativity makes us more emotionally resilient and better able to cope with life's adversity and losses. Just as exercise improves our muscle tone, when we are creatively engaged, our emotional tone is elevated.
2. Creativity contributes to physical health as we age. Increasing numbers of preliminary findings from psychoneuroimmunological studies--research that examines the interaction of our emotions, our brain function, and our immune system--suggest that a positive outlook and a sense of well-being have a beneficial effect on the functioning of our immune system and our overall health. These findings are particularly strong among older persons.
Creative expression typically fosters feelings that can improve outlook and a sense of well-being. Just as chronic unrelieved stress has a detrimental effect on the immune system, continuing creativity, by promoting the expression of emotions, promotes an immune function boost.
3. Creativity enriches relationships. For young or middle-aged adults, knowing there is a potential for creativity in later life will improve their outlook and expectations of those years. Adult children with optimistic expectations of aging typically are more comfortable discussing issues of aging and other life passages with their parents. The effect is a boon for both generations: the younger adult learns first hand about achieving a more satisfying aging experience, and the older adult remains engaged in the circle of relationship and emotional intimacy that strengthens connections to others and richness of life.
4. Creativity is our greatest legacy. To be creative in later life provides an invaluable model of what is possible as we age, for our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and society. As a role model in your family or in the lives of others, you can shape individual thinking and societal policies about aging. Historically, creativity has distinguished elders as "keepers" of the culture, those who pass the history and values of family and community on to the next generation.
Most of us will never win the Nobel Peace Prize or a Presidential election, but we can use creativity to shape our lives and, especially as we age, to unleash new potential for personal growth and self-expression. Before we can fully access our creative potential in aging, we need to clear away the internal and external obstacles to understanding...The Creative Age. Copyright © by Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.