This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but there it was a few days ago in The New York Times, this country’s preeminent national newspaper: news of a new study showing that people value simpler things more as they get older. Folk wisdom and well-worn maxims (“Less is More” and “Keep it Simple, Sweetheart” jump to mind) have now been legitimized by social science, it seems. Well, fine, if that’s what it takes.
The Times piece, by Ron Lieber (“For Some, ‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple,” Aug. 30), cites the lead article in the June issue of The Journal of Consumer Research, which reported that older people often draw as much happiness from ordinary experiences as they do from extraordinary ones.
These findings “offer a glimmer of hope,” says Lieber, adding, “If you can cover basic expenses, pursuing inexpensive, everyday things that bring comfort and satisfaction can lead to happiness equal to jetting about on international trips in your 70s and 80s.”
It’s no surprise, Lieber says, that extraordinary experiences provide great joy throughout one’s life. What was surprising, he thought, was that the reported study “found again and again that the older people got, the more happiness ordinary experiences delivered. In fact, the happiness-making potential of everyday pursuits eventually grows equal to that of ones that are rarer.”
In my own experience interviewing wise older women for this new WOW Factor blog, I’ve seen this to be true. Simple, timeless, soul-satisfying pursuits are a large part of what makes these women happy and vibrant. For example: Laura Kruskal, 91 (see 6/08 post), creates a new origami fold every day. Phyllis Hotch, 86 (see 6/17 post), continues to write poetry regularly. Joyce Appleby, 85 (see 8/18 post), is an avid gardener. Delma Barron, 77 (see 8/08 post), is a passionate quilter. Sara Jean Gray, 83 (see 6/24 post), creates art books – such as the one currently on display in the Encore Gallery here in Taos:
Especially inspired by my interview with Sara Jean earlier this summer, I embarked on an art book (of sorts) of my own. During my summer break from teaching at UNM, I sat down at my dining room table every day after lunch, spread out my watercolor gear, put on a pleasant CD, and painted a page in what I’m calling my Legacy Cookbook for my two grandchildren, now in their twenties.
I had gone through a lifetime of accumulated favorite recipes, chosen forty of the easiest ones (for beginner cooks) and hand-lettered and hand-illustrated each, one recipe per page. Just yesterday I completed the last one, for Coconut Bars, while listening to Miriam Makeba. This page, like the rest of the book, is not perfect. It’s not high art. It was just pure joy.