Billie Jean King: How to help your parent find joy

You’re never too old for fun! Billie Jean King shares how older adults can rediscover joy.

October 05, 2022

4 min read

Older man smiling while playing the piano and friends clap around him

“There’s no greater satisfaction and joy than boldly being yourself or redefining a life chapter – at any age.” – Billie Jean King

I’m often asked how I keep a positive attitude when faced with the occasional setback. My answer is simple. Each day, I embrace life, pursue purpose and seek adventure.

This same approach applies to rekindling a sense of fun in older adults, including those challenged by physical or mental setbacks. Here’s how to help an older parent rediscover passion and joy in their life.

Embrace life

 “Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Maybe it’s making a favorite pie from scratch, playing fetch with a dog or simply dressing up for a night on the town. Embracing simple pleasures is a delightful way to cultivate moments of joy in everyday life. Encourage your parent to rekindle their passions and offer any needed support if you can – gather ingredients for cooking, gift them with a fresh set of pet toys or join them for a fancy dessert at a favorite coffee house.

Do you know what else helps us embrace life? A playful spirit. Scientists have recognized that play contributes to physical and emotional health and is a source of relaxation and brain stimulation. Consider simple games you can play together – or even over the phone – like Wordle or crossword puzzles. There are some hilarious guessing and trivia games that can be played with smartphone apps.

As so many of life’s experiences are shaped by our attitude, it’s important to be positive. Should your parent dwell on the negative, encourage them to talk about what’s going well in their lives. If they need prompting, recall a cherished memory you have of your parent and encourage them to elaborate on the story.

It’s important we don’t take things personally. When someone says something negative, it’s usually more about them than about you.

Pursue purpose

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” – Oprah Winfrey

Purpose is important. It gives us something to look forward to each day. It also gives us something positive to reflect on, something to share, something to be proud of. Purposeful living has also been proven to help older adults live healthier, longer lives. As we age, so much changes – we may lose our spouse, we retire, our health declines and so on – it’s easy to lose touch with what we’re passionate about.

Seek opportunities for your parent to become involved in the local community or ways they can use their talents to help causes they consider worthwhile or important. If they are a veteran, reach out to your local VA and inquire about volunteer opportunities. If they love children, consider having your parent host story time at their local library or knit blankets for a pediatric hospital. If they are extroverted, consider Meals on Wheels or other organizations that help isolated adults. Fun comes in many forms, and helping others is one of them.

Giving back is one of the most fulfilling parts of my life. Making a difference in the lives of others can happen at so many levels. Older adults have amazing experiences to share; sometimes, they just need an invitation to join the conversation.

Be adventurous

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

Anyone who follows my social media posts knows that my tennis career and activism have provided wonderful opportunities to see the world – but we don’t always have to travel far to find fun and adventure. The secret is fostering a sense of curiosity in everyday life.

As a young child, I used to drive my parents crazy with all the questions I had about everything. Keeping a curious mind as an older adult opens the door to new possibilities. We can help older adults cultivate a curious spirit in many ways. Eat at a restaurant serving food they’ve never heard of, sign up for music lessons or a community college course, or try their hand at pottery or watercolor.

While routines are comforting, breaking out of our comfort zone and trying new things can be the exhilarating reminder that there is so much more to life than our daily routines. Again, tap into that playful spirit. See what nearby events or activities are happening throughout the week and encourage your parent to invite a friend or family member to join.

A community filled with fun opportunities

When my partner and I were looking for the right senior living community for my mother-in-law, we were drawn to the inviting environment at Atria Senior Living. Atria offered the support she needed as well as events and opportunities to socialize with others her age. We watched her grow, stay active and rediscover what it meant to engage with the world. If you’re interested, stop by a community for a visit. Visitors are always welcome and encouraged to sit down for lunch or attend an event.

Ready for a fun quiz? Take it now. (PDF)

Illustration of three men gardening, one with a wheelbarrel of supplies, one water flowers and one planting flowers

Not sure where to start?

There’s a lot to learn when you become a caregiver, and you may be wondering where to start. Fortunately, many of the experiences you’ll encounter are common, and we've pulled together resources to help you along your journey.

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