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Successful Aging: Why staying creative as we age can take many forms

Last week, we addressed P.L.’s question of whether age was an advantage in expressing creativity. The quick answer according to the late expert on the subject, Dr. Gene D. Cohen, is “yes.”

There are several types of creativity identified by Cohen in his book “The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life (Avon Books, 2000).

Personal creativity. This creativity might be a product, idea or new perspective. It’s something that you find satisfying and enhancing to your life. The public is not aware of it which may be your intention. Rather your creation is only important to you or to those close to you. This might be a new recipe, a floral arrangement, a poem or an email to your granddaughter. 

Public creativity. These are creative acts that are recognized and celebrated by a community or culture. They may be obvious such as a sculpture or a garden. An example is the Getty Center Central Garden designed by Robert Irwin and completed when he was in his late 60s. Public creativity also can be local in the form of a newsletter or mural in your community. 

Social creativity. An important component of social creativity is courage, a trait that comes with age according to Cohen. It’s having the courage to make a decision that is risky or controversial. An example is the back-door negotiations that lead to the 1994 Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israelis. The negotiations occurred among the late leaders of both parties: Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, (age 71), the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres (age 70) and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat (age 64). Another example is Ethel Percy Andrus who at age 72 was the force behind the nation’s first national health insurance plans for older adults. At age 74, she founded and became president of AARP.

Collaborative creativity. Creativity is more than a solo act. Certain creative endeavors cannot be achieved by one person; they need an equal partner. Examples are a chorale, sports team or the need for a problem to be solved in the workplace. Today, multi-generational work teams are valued as driving innovation as well as motivation and production. A collaborator could be a friend, spouse or family member. 

Intergenerational collaborative creativity. Here lies enormous potential for problem solving or for sheer enjoyment. Bringing together different ages to share their experiences, vision and energy can lead to special relationships where all parties benefit. A good example is Eldera, a global organization that connects children from around the world with vetted older mentors, one at a time, for weekly virtual conversations, story time and activities. The children benefit from social and emotional learning and older adults benefit from a sense of purpose and community as noted on the Eldera website. 

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