Celebrating a milestone birthday? What will you give yourself at 60? 70? 80? My first answer to this question is a common one: “The trip of my dreams!” Then, I wondered what would last longer than 2 to 3 weeks and be significant. A recent Wall Street Journal article changed my perspective on the gift to myself. The writer was a grieving widow who reestablished her piano playing skills as a way to handle her grief. She learned a lot more than new fingering techniques and how to pace her playing. She discovered the value of learning.
Adult piano lessons, even for an accomplished player, are different from our childhood lessons. I think this is true for most adult learning experiences. We bring our adult wisdom and perspective to a writing, painting, or drawing class. We experience music or acting lessons with full focus and enjoyment, instead of childhood dread. Additionally our teachers will be using different techniques now, whether because a few things have changed in instruction or because good teachers value adults’ maturity. They might also expose their own challenges or stumbles to support our skill growth and its pace. In essence, it is probably easier to be a student as an adult.
These adult learning experiences can be much more valuable than gaining or refining a skill. They often introduce us to new people who share a common interest, so we widen our social connections. Social ties are crucial to happiness and keeping isolation and depression from our doors.
Even though we’re older, research tells us we can still grow our mental capacity and ability. Learning new things is the essential here, as this is when we build our brains. If this sounds a bit like “use it or lose it,” it’s meant to; brain use and growth is a key element of healthy and happy longevity.
Another plus to adult learning is the boost in confidence and happiness we get from progressive mastery. Losses in life are a fact—whether it is portions of our health declining or the death of a parent. How we handle these losses and our own sense of control in our lives is determined by our approach and attitude to living. Gains in one area help us feel better about every area of our lives, even some sad spots.
Finally, and certainly crucial in adult learning, is fun and enjoyment. As busy as we are, we still choose to do something fun. Find your fun. Examine your youthful sources of joy for what you might do again. You can learn new aspects, refine technique and understanding, and regain the unique satisfaction of doing something fun that you love. Dale Carnegie said “People rarely success unless they have fun in what they are doing.” I think this is true about living, too, whether you’re in your 40’s or your 80’s.
I am fascinated by all the ways we can support our healthy longevity. Due to my family’s experience with Alzheimer’s, it is a top priority. For these reasons, I will keep reading and writing about brain health. If you would like to take a look at a former post on some basics to keeping your mind sharp, click here for the link.