Who doesn’t enjoy a good story? This holiday season take a few minutes to listen to a story from an older person in your life. You may learn a thing or two and even find some inspiration. Sure, there are lots of self-help and motivational books out there, but a wealth of helpful inside information about how to find happiness and fulfillment is likely waiting for you a lot closer than you think – at your own dinner table or your neighbor’s doorstep.
Long before the Internet and Wikipedia, older adults were a key source of information about how the world works and how to successfully maneuver our way through life’s endless twists and turns. Unfortunately, our jam-packed, fast-paced schedules often don’t leave time for us to take even a few minutes to learn from the older adults we know.
Spending those few minutes together can be mutually beneficial. When older adults share about their lives, there are psychological benefits for both the older individuals doing the talking and for the younger people doing the listening. Since at least the 1960s, healthcare providers have been successfully dabbling in this kind of informal interviewing in which they encourage unstructured storytelling among older adults. Studies with healthcare providers as well as studies with children in schools show that older individuals doing the talking report reduced depressive symptoms and increased positive well-being, while the individuals listening report receiving valuable life advice and more positive attitudes toward aging and older adults. That’s a win-win.
This activity is simple to do and doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Just ask an older adult you know to share something about her/his life. Be sure to ask for details – lots and lots of them. The positive effects of storytelling are magnified when the story is detailed and comes to life. You’ll get a clearer window into their lives, and they will appreciate and enjoy an engaged listener.
So, go ahead and be a nosy relative, neighbor, and friend, and get to know more about the older adults in your life. You are likely to learn something new, while helping make an older adult feel more valued. You might just make a new friend, strengthen a bond, and discover a role model. Bring on the holiday cheer!