GRACE'S MUSINGS: Joy to the world

Ageing gracefully is something I talk about a lot – but have you given any thought to the idea of ageing joyfully? I’ve just watched Ingrid Fetell Lee’s brilliant TED Talk Where Joy Hides and How to Find It (if you have 15 minutes, give it a whirl). In it, she suggests that, since ageing is inevitable, wouldn’t it help if we approached it more joyfully? Turns out there’s a whole field of research going on around joy. So how can we bring more of it into our daily life?
The idea of ageing gracefully – which is the way we (usually women) are “meant” to do it – is fraught with contradictions. It often involves trying to look 10 years younger than we really are while not appearing to have had any cosmetic work in order to get that way. So the woman who ages without giving too much thought to her appearance is criticised for “letting herself go”, while the one whose face appears not to age at all (because of surgery or tweakments) is “trying too hard”. This kind of double bind is exhausting.

So how can we move beyond this toxic – and often misogynistic –way of thinking about ageing? Fetell Lee suggests that, instead of seeing ageing as something to conquer, we embrace those aspects of our being that get better with age, see them as joys, and work to amplify them, while mitigating the losses of youth.

She’s not suggesting we paper over the real physical and mental challenges but that we view them without judgment and look for joyful ways to tackle them. That sounds like a plan to me. So here are five positively joyful ways to help us feel well as we age.

Take an ‘awe walk’
A US study of older adults found that taking an “awe walk” – 15 minutes once a week – in which you focus on vast or inspiring things in your environment, increased joy and emotions such as generosity and kindness much more than simply taking an unfocused stroll in nature. It also found that “smile intensity” – a measure of how much participants smiled – increased during the eight weeks of the study.
Stimulate your senses
Fetell Lee describes spending a night at the colourful Reversible Destiny Lofts in Tokyo, an apartment building designed by the artist Shusaku Arakawa and poet Madeline Gins to reverse ageing. They believed that, just as our muscles atrophy if we don’t exercise them, our cognitive capacity diminishes if we don’t stimulate our senses. One way to do this is to surround ourselves with colour, rather than the dull, beige interiors in which lots of people live.

Our senses decline as we get older: the lenses of our eyes thicken, allowing in less light, while smell, taste and hearing also become less sharp. So filling our homes with exciting sights, sounds and smells doesn’t just increase our joy but stimulates our brain.

Get a culture fix
More science: a whole host of research has shown that there is a link between older people participating in social activities – going to the cinema, playing cards, eating out or attending sporting events – and decreased mortality rates. Why? One theory is that these activities increase social connection, deepen relationships and reinforce feelings of belonging, all of which are positively associated with wellbeing. Cultural activities help keep the mind sharp, too.

Maximise mobility
Obviously exercise becomes increasingly important as we age, but one finding that makes it particularly relevant is that movement has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that plays a vital role in learning and memory. The hippocampus shrinks as we age, which can lead to impairment and an increased risk of dementia, so exercise can help. It can be a joy for its own sake, too: walking, swimming, yoga and dancing are all such fun for me.

Stay up on tech
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that tech is only for the young. Studies have proved that as we age, being tech-savvy can boost our wellbeing. Social connection – even online – contributes to better mental health, and older adults who lack the skills to use technology effectively feel a greater sense of disconnection. You don’t have to stay on top of every development, but checking out the latest app once in a while can help you stay connected.

So those are my top tips for ageing joyfully, with thanks to Ingrid Fetell Lee. Our goal here at Studio10 isn’t to help you cling onto your youth at all costs, but to assist you in negotiating the path into your next decade full of confidence and, yes, joy. It’s all about staying connected – whether that’s to culture, nature, society or tech. Don’t be a stranger.

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