Time, creativity and relationships
‘Time, creativity and relationships’ is an elaboration of ‘Healthy aging.’ The majority of the photographic images, along with the accompanying text and audio clips, illustrate the creative, emotional, and spiritual life of older adults which also play a very large role in contributing to ‘healthy aging.’ The photographs in this section reflected participants responses to the last two questions they were asked to address: 2) What does old age actually look like to you, irrespective of what society and media depict as old age? and 3) How would you like old age to be portrayed in media and popular culture? Their photographic images and interviews emphasized the importance of creativity – art, music, dance and performance – in the life of older adults who have more time to engage in creative endeavours in their post-retirement years Participants also discussed the importance of connection and intergenerational relationships with friends, partners and grandchildren, as well as with family pets. Volunteering was also another way to contribute to the community and help to bring people together. All of these relationships contribute to healthy aging, whether within a cohort of similarly aged older adults or through intergenerational relationships.
Discussion and analysis
In previous sections of this website, both groups of participants have discussed issues that have had a connection to the WHO (2020) definition of ‘healthy aging.’ However, because this section has a focus on how life changes after retirement – what the gift of time makes possible, only the images and interviews from participants in the older age group are represented. All of the older group of participants (who ranged in age from 65 to 78) had retired, with the exception of one person who had retired but then established a small part-time business. It should be noted that in previous sections of this website participants from the younger age group emphasized the importance of family connections, as well as intergenerational mixing and relationships (which is also discussed by participants in the older age group on this page), but they did not mention retirement in their interviews.
‘Healthy aging’ as defined by the World Health Organization is: “The process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age… Functional ability is about having the capabilities that enable all people to be and do what they have reason to value, which includes a person’s ability to: 1) meet their basic needs; 2) learn, grow and make decisions; 3) be mobile; 4) build and maintain relationships; and 5) contribute to society” (WHO, 2020). Throughout their interviews, participants emphasized the positive aspects of being an older person, which in large part involve having the time following retirement to explore a variety of activities from volunteering, to connecting with other people and their communities, to exploring their creativity.
It should be pointed out however, that there is fundamental inequality in the concept of having time to explore creative interests or engage in these other activities, primarily due to the socioeconomic inequality of older age. While some older adults are financially secure and have time in post-retirement to pursue various interests and activities, many older adults cannot even afford to retire at 65 (never mind the Freedom 55 idea of early retirement), which is a situation that was discussed by a younger participant in a previous section. [See Gender and class – bias and inequality). Unfortunately, numerous older adults have to work for as long as their physical health will permit just to be able to afford housing and food. For these older adults, having time to engage in many of these kinds of creative activities (or have the extra income to afford them) is a fantasy. Yet, creative expression takes many forms, and not all involve money. One participant for example, who lived on a fixed low-income, felt that if you are fortunate enough to live in subsidized housing there are ways to express your creativity that are affordable. For her, gardening is creative and the complex she lived in had a shared community garden. This provided an opportunity for her to be outside in nature, grow her own food, and engage with others while also being creative.
For the older adults who are able to retire at 65 or younger and are financially secure, having the time to explore their creativity or intellectual pursuits is very appealing. Through their photographs and interviews, participants emphasized the importance of creativity – art, music, dance and performance in the lives of older adults who, in their post-retirement years have more time to engage in creative endeavours. One participant discussed her personal interest in engaging in the art making process, as well as talking about other seniors she knew who also engaged in art activities, such as painting, photography, pottery, and jewellery making. This participant said that it’s not only because older people have time that they are drawn to art but, according to her, “there were a number of studies that indicate that as we get older our brains are actually wired to become more creative. And so, seniors paint not so much because they have time but because there is an internal compulsion to be more creatively expressive.” In addition to the visual arts, the other two participants provided photographs for their interviews that illustrated the fun and enjoyment of participating in music and the performing arts (square dancing, as well as singing and entertaining for other people).
The importance of intergenerational relationships in the context of their own lives was emphasized by all of the participants. They also mentioned the beneficial effects that representation of intergenerational relationships in media and popular culture would bring (which is unfortunately lacking). Two of the male participants and two of the female participants talked about the enjoyment they experienced interacting with their grandsons. One of these participants also talked about the value of intergenerational mixed housing that is much more popular in the Scandinavian countries than it is in Canada. He also discussed the benefits of multigenerational family living which takes places in many cultures but is not very prevalent and generally discouraged in ours. One female participant who has always been very involved with her large closely connected intergeneration family felt strongly that if you have had good relationships with your grandparents, it helps to build positive attitudes about older adults, which is a position that is supported in the academic literature (Hagestad &Uhlenberg, 2006; Cadieux et al., 2019). .
In addition to relationships with other human beings, two participants also brought up relationships with pets. One female participant discussed how having the time to engage with family pets can also help people open up to other humans in a deeper way. And another female participant talked about how rewarding pets are for older people, especially if they don’t have a partner. Pets (dogs in particular) encourage people to get out of their homes more often and engage with other people and their community, thereby avoiding feelings of isolation. She also felt that pets “give you a purpose, which is important in old age.” She has a dog herself that she takes with her in a little basket on her bike, but she also mentioned that she has a disabled friend who has a little dog who brings her great happiness. Despite her disabilities, she is able to care for her dog and she takes him everywhere with her using her motorized wheelchair,
Ten of 11 participants emphasized the positive benefits of volunteering in the community, both to the community and to the individual volunteer who, through the volunteer work, becomes more connected with the community and experiences a sense of purpose and satisfaction from helping others. One female participant pointed out that volunteering is something all older people can do even if they are disabled. She also emphasized that It provides a way to be useful to society and help others in older age, consequently bringing meaning to their lives. One female participant also said that volunteerism by the older generation also shows that “seniors have compassion for others who are 65+ to 90s.” A number of participants also mentioned that as well as helping others, volunteerism helps to reduce loneliness. On a different note, one of the male participants found that getting involved in new creative activities after he retired – learning square dancing – helped him tremendously in his difficult transition from being a CEO of a large company to retirement, where without work, he lost his identity and status. He felt for quite some time after retirement that he no longer had value in society. But when he took up square dancing, he soon became proficient enough to teach as a volunteer, and then added singing and performing for others (also as a volunteer). Seeing the enjoyment he brought to others though teaching square dancing and performing (singing) for other people restored his confidence and gave him a sense of belonging and purpose. He was then able to continue to build a healthy post-retirement life for himself.
These are descriptions of some of the many ways that seniors spend their time after they retire. And having more time, now that they no longer have to spend the majority of their days doing paid work, opens up many new possibilities of exploration for the older adult, a journey made easier with financial means. These participant images, audio clips and text have pointed out that these participants see many positive aspects of older age despite the emphasis on the cult of youth portrayed in popular culture.
“I found as a senior now that life is so rich and so rewarding. I see it as a time to finally just relax and do what I want to not have a boss telling me what to do and not getting up at the crack of dawn. Just doing our own thing. I find hanging out with other people my age, and on the Internet. It’s just a wonderful time to be alive and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. And I wish that young people could see it that way. Not horrible, not: ‘oh my gosh, you’re old’. It’s not. I’m so happy. I’ve never been happier than this age… I think it’s because I’m doing my own thing. I have grandkids, children, but even if [I] didn’t have grandchildren just the rewards from my friendships, my girlfriends, are true and deep with your… I’ve made new friends since I’ve retired too that I have lovely relationships with. I don’t feel the urge to find a man. I don’t want a man. I’m happy with myself. I think for the first time in my life I’m happy with myself. I love being with me.”
[C. Meyer, age 68]
“The face paintings you see on children really represent a kind of creativity and freedom that I think is possible as people age in our culture that often people don’t have access to when they’re younger either because they simply don’t have time or they’re really focused on their careers. My generation was the first generation of women that tried to do it all. Most of us wrecked our health in the process in terms of trying to have a career and family and kids and community life and all of that. But there’s a lot of studies that indicate that as we get older our brains are actually wired to become more creative. And so seniors paint not so much because they have time but because there is an internal compulsion to be more creatively expressive… And you know, I think a lot of seniors really jump into that, whether it’s painting or pottery or jewellery making or you name it. You see seniors engaged in all kinds of stuff and it isn’t just a matter of time, it’s a matter of what their brains are doing.”
[N. Cooley, age 73]
“There are so many things that are offered that seniors can do…[like] square dancing. This in particular is my friend Maryianne square dancing, and she just loves it….
I think that perhaps there should be more pictures [exposure in media] of things that seniors are doing. Because actually when you think about it, there are more seniors now than there ever have been ever and there’s probably a calling for that to show what other seniors are doing… Dancing, hiking, meeting, getting together, doing karate lessons, you know, just [showing] that seniors can have fun…[that] we can just keep on doing what we’ve been doing. I’m not going to stop because I turned 65. Actually, I’m doing more than I ever did before. I even got a tattoo at 65, you know, (laughter) It says: ‘just breathe’.”
[C. Meyer, age 67]
“My transition from a work life to a retired life was such a tremendous change that I had a lot of trouble adjusting to it… We go from being a very valuable contributor to society to not being recognized as having anything to offer at all overnight… The concept of age and its biological impact leaves people with the thought that you have nothing to contribute, where in fact your transferable skills from all the other things you’ve done in your life are so rich that people will pay for the privilege of joining you in celebrating that type of culture…
And just now I’m starting to come out of it, but only because I haven’t sat back… I’ve forced myself on the community. For example, I’m now teaching square-dancing three times a week, which is unheard of for somebody to do that…This is a photo of me dressed up as an old cowpoke singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to a group [because I also entertain as well as teach square dancing]…”
[J. Myers age 70]
“There’s obviously some real companion ability in the photo between the man and the dog… And one of the things that I find with aging, particularly with males is that they often grow into their nurturing side, what our society would think is more feminine as opposed to masculine, they grow into that capacity and interest in really relating to another being whether it’s an animal or a person… And that’s a huge shift. Males in our culture are mostly focused on their careers until they are older. And then that’s often when they really get interested in relationships that are not working relationships but intimate relationships. And they often have a capacity to relate to others in a way that they didn’t when they were younger…He has a relationship with this dog, he has a connection with this dog, he pays attention to and does things for this dog in a way that he did not when he was younger… He has more time to actually explore some of his own capacity for intimate connection. And it spills over into his relationships with humans as well.”
[N. Cooley, age 73]
“… I am very privileged to be able to spend quite a bit of time with my grandchildren and we enjoy our times together. They tend to be very spontaneously driven by what we collectively want to do. So it’s a very joyful time and something very much an important part of our life…
Reading to the grandchildren is very spontaneous, very engaging and interactive. Nobody is telling us that we have to go and do this, nobody’s saying this is on the agenda for Thursday afternoon and we just have fun. We just have fun. It’s an open ended mutually engaging enterprise that I’m involved in with the grandchildren. Sometimes we go canoeing, sometimes we go hiking, sometimes we go to an art gallery or a special event somewhere and we just have a good time. I do value those times and that’s something that can’t be replaced by anything that can be provided through the media…”
[M. Bocking, age 72]
“This photo is four of us and we’re all in our 60s then… And we went to New York for a week and went to some shows, did some shopping and just had a lot of fun… It was to celebrate a 6oth birthday so I guess that says a little bit about aging too. But it doesn’t really matter how old you are. We could have been in our 30s and had a good time, but we were in our 60s and still had a good time. It depicted that even though we’re older we’re still able to go away together, have a lot of fun. Often people think that when girls go away on a weekend or go shopping or anything like that, they’re younger women but we were all older and we went and had lots of fun doing it…we walked and walked and walked and we were all fit enough to be able to do that…”
[B. Viz, age 66]
“I just think music [can] link all generations. With the aging rock stars it’s quite interesting because they’re in their 70s, they’re still playing music, people are still listening to it, young people like it, old people like it. I just think it’s kind of an interesting phenomenon because in years gone by I don’t think that my parents’ generation would have had the same type of music that carried on all those years…
Our granddaughter just went to Las Vegas to see Elton John who’s someone that we grew up with too and so [music is] overlapping generations. It’s kind of an inspiration to young people and old people too, for us to see these 70-year-old musicians out there still playing, I think it’s a positive kind of aging…I think it just shows that kind of like you’re only as old as you feel… And just because these musicians got older, they didn’t stop playing their music and they didn’t change the music. They’re still playing rock and roll music, they didn’t change to some older kind of generational music, they’re still carrying on.”
[B. Viz, age 66]