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Postcards from Scotland

Wisdom and Flamboyance: Flourishing in older age

This the name of an event the Centre held, with support from the Scottish Government, in Oran Mor, Glasgow on October 11th, 2007

Overview of themes

  • What is flourishing?
  • What steps can individuals take to flourish, particularly in later life?
  • What can public services, and those involved in health and social services, do to support flourishing?
  • What role is there for business, cultural organisations and the media in creating the conditions for positive ageing?
  • How can we apply the new findings from psychology, sociology and economics to help us realise the kind of future aspired to in the Future Forum Report and espoused by the Scottish Executive’s reports All Our Futures and Changing Lives?

These were some of the important questions which were addressed at this one day, ground-breaking event.

The Conference programme

The detailed conference programme and flyer is available to be downloaded. Below are some links.

Importance of these themes to Scotland

The Scottish Parliament’s Future Forum report on positive ageing called for a national debate on the issues involved and even claimed ‘A new social contract must be drawn up between government, business and individual citizens; a contract which promotes a culture where older people will be recognised for their value and tremendous potential to businesses, the economy and society.’

This important conference is designed to attract participants from across Scottish organisations- business, sport, arts and theatre, public services, financial services, transport and of course health and social services – to discuss one of the most important questions facing us today – how can we encourage flourishing in older age?

Dr Corey Keyes is an academic at Emory University in Atlanta USA. His breadth as a scholar is evidenced in his involvement with three different departments – sociology, psychology and public health. He is a prolific researcher and author. His recent book is called Flourishing and is co-authored with Jonathan Haidt. Dr Keyes has been involved in various research projects on flourishing in older life. Dr Keyes is a founding member of the Society for Human Development which aims to move science and policy beyond age-segmented divisions

Professor Mary Gilhooley is President of the British Society of Gerontology. She is also Professor of Health Studies in the School of Health Science and Social Care at Brunel University. She is author of several books on dementia. Professor Gilhooley also established Scotland's first centre of social gerontology at the University of Paisley.

Jacquie Roberts is Chief Executive of the Care Commission overseeing the standard of care provided for children, adults and older people across Scotland, producing also an annual report on the quality of care services.  

Professor Angus Skinner is an Associate Consultant with the Centre.  As Chief Social Work Inspector he was the author of major service reviews and the creation of national care standards.  Angus now works as a consultant in applying positive psychology and appreciative inquiry in organisations.  

Dr Carol Craig is Chief Executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being. She is author of The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence and Creating Confidence. Carol was the architect of the Centre’s original Vanguard Programme.

Flourishing in Later Life

One of the, many, themes which emerged during the ‘Wisdom and Flamboyance' event was that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness.  Though they are closely related, they do not lie on a continuum with mental health at one end and mental illness at the other. Instead we need to create the conditions which promote flourishing.  In the older years this means not only boosting positive emotion but also looking at things such as creating meaning and purpose in life.

Flourishing at any age of life, according to Corey Keyes, is the presence of both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being.  Hedonic well-being is what we often think of as happiness: pleasant affect and satisfaction with life.  Eudaimonic well-being, by contrast, has 11 components such as meaning, purpose in life, personal growth, autonomy and so on. 

 At the event we discussed how we can create a state of flourishing in older people. Much of this involved the idea that we have to tap into what the older generation have to give to others and society as a whole.  We can learn a huge amount from older people and this can help them feel as if they are making a difference.  One of the ways participants suggested this could be achieved was through intergenerational communication and storytelling.

During the event there was opportunity for different views. Professor Mary Gilhooly, for example, explained why ageing is not always a positive experience.

You can listen to some of the contributions from the event and view their Powerpoint presentations.

Discussions/impact of the event

During the day there was a number of opportunities for table discussions on some of the key themes. These discussion points are outlined on the main programme. We also engaged Graham Ogilvie to produce cartoons of some of the main themes. These were then used as a discussion point. These cartoons and comments can be downloaded.

The following are the comments people made about the ideas/thoughts from the event which were likely to ‘stick’:

• Lifelong learning and empowerment. Enabling of people is key to ageing positively.
• So many!
• Sharing views and networking, positive thinking is good etc.
• That mental health and illness are not one continuum but two.
• Model of confidence was extremely interesting.
• Retaining ambition and ‘flow’ when doing things.
• The polarisation interest in positive and negative, good and bad and the lack of reference to the pathology of suffering and misery in our society and our apparent aversion to this. Be good to have someone present really ‘out of the box’ thinking about growing old.
• Intergenerational activity. Challenging media stereotypes and negative images of older people.
• New ideas around ageing and confidence/self esteem.
• Flourishing/languishing. Some practical actions suggested by final session in afternoon.
• Positive living no matter when people were born.
• Concept of flourishing.
• ‘Flourishing/flamboyance and languishing’ as ways of thinking about older people in the world.
• Flamboyance-a great way to think about it both personally and professionally.

Participants were also asked how attending the event was likely to bring about a change in their behaviour or thinking and this has been summarised below:

• Consider the subject when developing services for my organisation and evaluating what we do! Need to look into this more. Thank you for the introduction.
• Not sure but it will! Getting older people out and involved with ‘activity’-importance of this!
• Link into Community planning/health improvement/work back at base.
• Better understanding of challenges facing older people and ways in which to change attitudes and services.
• New thinking and understanding for work and personal life.
• Giving me food for thought-personally and in work life.
• Challenge attitudes-change the way I may tackle issues.
• More informed about wider issues related to ageing.
• Too early to answer this. It is does it will require reflection before the ‘hows’ and ‘why’ become clear.
• Would like to have more contact with others working in the field more often.
• Model of confidence was extremely interesting.
• Very interesting with lots of new information. Hard to answer just yet but I’m sure it will!
• As a war baby, flourishing and flamboyant, volunteering is very important to me and I try to encourage others. I shall carry on optimistically.
• Strengthen my practice and understanding of wider issues.
• Will try to encourage more in this agenda through my work.


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