Author : Priscilla Grant - Subject : Life
Meet the men and women who seem to have found life's sweet spot, a balance of work and play that experts say is the key to happiness
by Priscilla Grant
We see you out there. You're the two-career couple who still manage to slip away for ski weekends and canoe trips. The retired schoolteacher who regularly dons an apron for exotic cooking classes. The businesswoman who stars in community theater musicals.
How do you do it? You've got just as many problems and responsibilities as anyone else. And you're not getting any younger, either. Yet somewhere in midlife, you caught a wave of pleasure you've been riding ever since.
Charlie Meade, NYC
dancer, bus driver
"Now my time is mine.
I get a certain high from dancing. It's playing. I seem to forget all my problems when I'm dancing"
One of the most eye-opening findings of a recent AARP MODERN MATURITY survey on enjoyment in life was that nearly 30 percent of Americans 55 and over say that the older they get, the more fun they have. The survey of more than 2,000 adults, conducted by RoperASW in July 2001 and January 2002, also found that another three in 10 report having the same amount of fun as earlier in life, while 34 percent say growing older means that they're having less fun.
The good news is there's hope for those who aren't natural-born funmasters. Members of the more-fun group aren't just lucky: They share attitudes and habits that everyone can learn from.
People who find joy in the second phase of life experience a "second growth," says sociologist William A. Sadler, author of The Third Age: Six Principles for Growth and Renewal After Forty (Perseus, 2000). He developed the concept during a 12-year study of midlifers. The findings of his long-term study challenge the stereotype that "starting in one's 40s, people have midlife crises or give up on their dreams and accommodate to loss," Sadler says. He found that a significant number of midlifers consciously began to take risks, continued to be productive, and increasingly enjoyed their relationships with those closest to them. In short, as the years went by life just kept getting better and better. "The oldest among them showed me that it's possible to experience and sustain renewal well beyond the conventional boundaries of old age," he says.
The AARP MODERN MATURITY survey confirmed that people who are having more fun also feel good about themselves, enjoy close relationships, are intellectually curious, and are physically active. Compared with those whose fun times are on the wane, the more-fun group is more likely to feel
happy (81 percent versus 53 percent)
peaceful (66 percent versus 46 percent)
truly alive (67 percent versus 44 percent)
capable and competent (72 percent versus 59 percent)
According to the survey, the more-fun group is also more likely than their less-fun counterparts to
socialize with friends (67 percent versus 49 percent)
spend a romantic evening with a spouse or partner (35 percent versus 25 percent)
exercise or play sports (49 percent versus 33 percent)
do something educational or cultural (45 percent versus 31 percent)
make love (40 percent versus 29 percent)
Those percentages may be rising. Sadler believes that because people are living longer than ever before, this second growth will one day be seen as the norm. The men and women in his study, he says, do not think in terms of retiring—certainly not in the old-fashioned sense of disengaging. "We have the potential for a 'third age' that our parents and grandparents didn't have," says Sadler. "We get this 30-year life bonus. People ask, 'Where am I going to put those years—if I put them in the middle, isn't that better than putting them at the end?'"
The members of the more-fun group agree that enjoyment of life doesn't have to decline with age: Starting in their 40s and 50s, they developed or deepened interests that keep them productive and happy. Here's what makes them different:
They Make Fun a Priority
Finding enjoyment in life takes time, and those most successful at it dedicate an average of 24 hours per week to "just having fun." Our survey shows they are also more likely than their wet-blanket counterparts to claim they "live for having fun."
They Think of Themselves as Fun People
Fun lovers are more likely to describe themselves as "a fun person to be around." In fact, 22 percent say they're disappointed if they don't have some fun every day.
The Doctor Is Not In
Dr. Cathy Carron, NY
Physician, American Stock Exchange
Weekends she's sailing in Florida.
They Love to Learn
Two-thirds of the fun-loving group say they're "always trying to learn new things." Plus, taking classes or joining learning groups helps prevent personal isolation, which is "a dream killer," according to Barbara Sher, author of It's Only Too Late if You Don't Start Now (Delacorte Press, 1998).
Best of all, it's possible to join the ranks of those who get the most fun out of life. All you need to do is give yourself a little kick-start, says Gail Cassidy, author of Discover Your Passion (Tomlyn Publications, 2000).
"Notice, for instance, what part of the newspaper you read first. Then make a list of your skills, work experiences, knowledge areas, and talents. Finally, use that information to draw a road map of your interests. I used to be a teacher, and I thought I was done with education. But I still found myself reading the education section of the newspaper, so now I'm offering a course on self-confidence for battered women."
You can combine skills and interests in different ways. Cassidy had a client who, after visiting Appalachia, developed a new type of quilting. She also loved genealogy. So she started to help people design quilts based on their family trees.
Brush With Life
Denis Clifford, Albany, CA
Age 62, Attorney
"I think that laughing and having a good time is only one kind of fun. The other kind is a process, like painting, that resonates with my soul."
Ironically, other people can be the best route to self-discovery. "Your friends know you and may have some good advice," adds Geoffrey C. Godbey, professor of leisure studies at Pennsylvania State University.
And while you're trying new things, Godbey adds, give yourself permission to fail or be embarrassed in your pursuit. Convince yourself that not trying is the greater failure, and take the leap.
Having fun can clearly be a lot of work. But the payoff can be substantial. Studies show that people who take time to play are healthier physically and emotionally. In fact, the AARP MODERN MATURITY survey found that members of the more-fun group are far more likely than their less-fun counterparts to rate their physical health as "excellent." As they get older, they also feel more balanced emotionally.
Play has also been shown to increase creativity, one of the hallmarks of successful living. "It's well-known that many Nobel Prizes have been won by people who were just playing in their minds and having fun," says Lenore Terr, professor of psychiatry and the author of Beyond Love and Work: Why Adults Need to Play (Touchstone Books, 1999). "We used to think that if we could just work hard and be good people, then that would be enough. But if we play throughout our lives, it's a better way to live. Playing gets your mind working. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning."
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