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Study: Forget Your Troubles, Join the Red Hatters.


A new study has found that the Red Hat Society (RHS) enables members to manage stress and to better cope with challenging life transitions.

The study, led by Dr. Susan Hutchinson of Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia), examined benefits that women gained through membership in the organization. The study included 272 women, from 51 to 80 years of age.

The study findings were published in the journal Aging & Society (Vol. 28, 2008).

The Red Hat Society

The Red Hat Society is an international social organization of women aged 50 years and older. These “hot and spicy ladyz” pride themselves on having fun. They show up at social gatherings sporting purple outfits with eye-catching red hats and glitzy jewelry. The Red Hatters are inspired by author Jenny Joseph’s poem Warning which opens with the lines, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/ With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.”

Today, the society boasts one million members in 41,000 local chapters, spread across 30 countries, including Canada. Some chapters cap membership at 10 to 15 members. Others do not set a limit. Membership includes single, married, divorced and widowed women with varied personal and professional backgrounds.

Beyond fun and friendship

According to the study, many participants turned to the society to gain relief from chronic stressors such as caregiving responsibilities, debilitating illness or the death of a loved one.

Supportive environment: The study found membership in the society helped participants in several ways. Most importantly, the RHS offered women a supportive environment.

On a practical level, the Red Hatters shared information and transportation to medical appointments, for example. On an emotional level, they offered comfort in times of crisis.
As one participant put it, “I recently lost my best friend of 29 years to cancer. . . . The love and support of my fellow chapter members has kept me going and helped me cope with the loss.”

In fact, some Red Hat chapters that formed initially “just for fun” morphed into social-support networks, as members faced crises of various sorts.

One woman explained:

Originally we formed the group to keep in touch with our friends and have some fun; however, the purpose changed somewhat when a couple of our members faced life-threatening illnesses. We became a strong support network that was there for those who needed it. As a result, our bond of friendship is stronger, as is our appreciation for the passage of time. Tempus fugit, we might as well eat dessert first!

Reduced stress: According to the study, the society helped 59 women reduce stress or feel better about their personal situation. One woman said, “Becoming a member of the Red Hat Society allows me to escape and have fun with other people. I enjoy laughing and being silly. The once-a-month activities we do are therapy for me.”

Another participant noted, “My husband has Alzheimer’s, so I’m very lonely and isolated. I joined a chapter in a larger nearby town. . . . [They] have taught me how to laugh again, and have fun, and just be silly. I feel like I’ve regained my sanity thanks to them.”

Boosted positive emotions: Another 17 participants said the RHS offered them something to look forward to, even when things changed little. “None of the stressful areas in my life have changed, but now I have something to look forward to every month. I always leave a get-together feeling as though it’s been good for me emotionally and physically,” one woman said.

Offered opportunities for renewal: Finally, 21 participants reported the society had offered them opportunities for re-appraisal and renewal.

As one woman put it:

It has revitalized my life, given me a focus in retirement. As a result of finding ME and having positive, fun-filled playmates in this silliness, I have developed the courage to address other areas in my life that needed to be addressed to make changes for the better. . . . I am reinventing myself, thanks to the impetus of my involvement with the society’s activities and philosophy.

Getting by with a little help from my friends

According to researchers, this study highlights the potential of leisure-based social groups as life-giving resources for older women. The RHS offered participants opportunities to play and enjoy life again. Moreover, the Red Hatters drew the women into a sisterhood of caring, that fostered optimism and sparked renewed interest in life.