Listening to an interview on KCRW last week, I was not surprised to learn that there is a direct correlation between the perception of achievement of one’s personal life goals and satisfaction with the aging process. It seems there is scientific proof now that, as we age, if we don’t believe we have achieved our goals in life the frustration that results influences our degeneration into grumpy old men and women, and this pickling process accelerates as we move from late middle age to old age. Additionally it has been found that the drop in our sex hormones, precipitous in women at the point of menopause and over a steady decline in men, increases our tendencies toward becoming a member of the cantankerous elderly. This evolution into grumpy old people is so common that it has almost considered to be the rule.
Now, the doctor in the interview had also gathered supporting documentation that proved that satisfied individuals who heartily believed they had accomplished their life goals were often happy in their twilight years, the jolly old folks who we all aspire to become, despite the inevitable drop in hormones and the creeping decrepitude of the aging process.So what does this have to do with us, as artists, as people? Happy elderly never stop growing, never stop having goals, never stop trying new things. I am reminded of a management tool I have used for years with personnel where, recognizing that we cannot motivate people unless they motivate themselves, we ask people to make a list of the 50 things they would like to do before they die (and then we tie their personal goals to company goals). This is usually a very difficult project for many people! Most of us never think about our mortality or try to list accomplishments or goals, but I can attest this is a fascinating process and well worth doing—the physical act of writing down your desires and plans makes them a covenant, a commitment to oneself and to the others who read the list, and it is amazing after 5 years if you review your list you will find how many of the goals you have set have been accomplished. This is also one of the fundamental self change processes employed by professionals helping individuals overcome afflictions and stagnation. It is time for me to rewrite my list as I have achieved most of the list I wrote down 7 years ago—and if you have a spouse or significant other, compare lists as it is often illuminating and sometime life changing! And if you are having trouble finding items for your list, start dreaming. Artists dream and artists create—we can make our world and never become grumpy old people!