Happiness and ageing … a focus on positive emotions

Happiness and ageing … a focus on positive emotions

by Dr. Happy (aka Dr. Tim Sharp)

The famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw supposedly once said “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

In response, as a Positive Psychologist with a special interest in positive ageing, I say “Don’t stop playing!”

Admittedly, this is a slightly simplistic approach as there’s more to real and genuine happiness than fun and play. Living a life of meaning and purpose, building and maintaining positive relationships, and enjoying satisfaction and contentment are all important parts of living a good life.

But at the same time, there’s no doubt that fun and pleasure, including activities that contribute to all sorts of positive emotions, are vitally important if we’re wanting to live our best lives in retirement. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we can’t enjoy a positive retirement if we don’t make at least some time for fun and pleasure.

When we’re younger, most of us ensure that fun and play are priorities. But as we age, and as we enter into retirement, there’s a tendency for some to forget about the importance of and benefits that come from having a good time.

But positive and playful activities enhance our mood and more often than not, connect us with others. Apart from anything else, laughing has been proven to bring numerous physical and psychological benefits with it. Pleasurable activities are happiness boosting and stress reducing so they help us enjoy more of the good stuff and significantly reduce some of the less enjoyable feelings we all experience from time to time but don’t really want too much of.

In addition to pleasurable and/or fun activities, there’s another type of activity in which we can engage for another type of important and helpful emotion. These activities are typically referred to as “satisfying” activities and they include tasks that may not be the most fun and might not bring about smiles or laughs but, notably, when completed they do lead to feelings of fulfilment, gratification, pride and even triumph; all of which are obviously desirable emotions.

When I interviewed people for my book “Life Happier, Life Longer; your guide to positive ageing and making the most of life” all of the great examples of positive ageing to whom I spoke were still living full and fun lives well into their 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s. When I asked them how and why they were still having so much fun they all, in different ways, responded with something like “well why wouldn’t we!”

To ensure and to maximise happiness in retirement, then, make a point to regularly engage in pleasurable and satisfying activities. Quite literally, schedule them in to your daily routine; make a habit of doing at least one fun and enjoyable activity each day, as well as at least one task that on completion will feel satisfying.

Keep fun in your life also by continually trying new things. You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream (C. S. Lewis). There is a myriad of options for people of all ages including courses at the University of the Third Age (everything from Literature to History, Creative Writing and Art appreciation, Languages and even cooking!); clubs such as Rotary and Lions; volunteer options and so much more.

And don’t forget that one of the greatest sources of fun and pleasure comes from being and interacting with others. So to conclude, give your retirement a massive positive boost by doing something you have to do (after which you’ll feel satisfied), finding a way to make it fun (which will integrate pleasure and enjoyment) and doing it with someone else (for the very valuable social element)!


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