We all have them and we all hate them. Problems. It takes our time, saps our energy and puts us in a negative space. But only temporarily; we usually find a solution and move on. And yet there are times when that problem is actually an unrealized gift.
Alexander Graham Bell said “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Enter mental flexibility, creative thinking and positive psychology; a triad of intellectual ammunition that can transform battles to opportunities. Well known successes have been launched with this approach and our lives are better because of it. Many famous people, despite their initial failures, did not give up; instead they regrouped, rethought, recharged and came back with new strategies. For example, Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he had success, R. H. Macy failed seven times before his New York City store became a valued retailer and Walt Disney went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. These people worked on long term goals; they fell and got up again many times before they reached the finishing line. They were creative thinkers; tenacious with their vision yet flexible in their thought processes. Eventually their success reaped not only financial benefits but also personal satisfaction. Their triumph became our benefit.
As we age, our hurdles are more focused on our physical changes and less on career challenges. Everyone has a different way of coping; meditation, prayer, support groups and denial are avenues that will often alleviate some stress. There are many instances of older adults who realized that if they maintained their focus and looked at their problem from a different angle, a new solution, perhaps even a serendipitous one, could provide a new source of joy to their lives. Here are some examples:
• Don R. is a retired Professor of Literature. He has read and reread classics many times as well as thousands of other books because reading has been an integral part of his life. But when his eyesight began to fail him, real frustration was on the horizon. Enter audio books. Don has become so engaged in this new way of consuming literature that he feels it offers benefits that reading quietly by himself does not. For instance when he listens to poetry he can actually hear the cadence rather than silently read it. So Don, analytical by nature, evaluates narrators as critically as many evaluate authors and enjoys talking about their differences, addressing valuable insights to the theatre of the written word.
• Jane S. loves Florida and her senior community. She always has been independent and enjoyed driving to see friends and doing errands. However when her quick response time slowed down, her stress on the road escalated and her fender benders added to her insurance expense. Jane knew that she had to stop driving but she did not want to stop being on the go. At the same time, her physician was concerned about her weight gain and sedentary life style. The solution was evident: bike riding. Although she had not ridden in years, she took it up quickly again and can be seen pedaling around her community to see friends while losing weight, feeling better and enjoying more confidence in herself.
• Jean E. founded a free dance program for youth; she choreographed and also designed and constructed the costumes. But when arthritis took hold she needed to change her focus. "It had been a long life dream of hers to write a historical novel,” her daughter said. To date, Jean has written four novels and although she is now struggling with macular degeneration, true to her spirit, she is using the “best aids available at this time as she still has a couple more books brewing in her mind,” reflected her daughter. “Her upbeat attitude is an inspiration and shows that age and its physical changes cannot take away our creativity and desires to explore what life has to offer.”
So it’s possible, and definitely advantageous, to take those problems and create new positive experiences. “While simple cognitive processing measures such as those of memory and attention might decline with age, it seems that everyday problem solving does not”. We possess the experience and wisdom to make choices to better our life experience. While disappointments and hurdles will crop up, our decision to mine positive alternatives will support a healthier way of living. Everyday creativity is less about art and more about how we configure these choices and relate to the world around us. Creative thinking and perseverance will reap the rewards of positive aging.
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."