Gratefulness: active, warm appreciation or thankfulness for something
Somehow, active warm appreciation and thankfulness are not words one associates with being old, nor thought of as assets in aging. Yet research suggests that an attitude of gratitude can have a positive effect on both mental and physical wellbeing at any age. Its potential payoff in itself might make gratefulness an attitude and behavior worth exercising and developing.
As I look back on my life, it seems that gratitude has gone through several metamorphoses over the years. From our earliest years, my sister and I were taught and expected to say “please” and “thank you” appropriately. We always ate dinner as a family every evening; and the meal was preceded by saying in unison a short traditional Swedish grace whose words we understood. At the end of the meal, we children would say, “Tack för maten” (thanks for the food) as we were excused from the table. These were rituals that became habits.
The next stage seemed to be thankfulness for things. And a bit later when really positive events happened or there were escapes from potentially bad ones, new dimensions of gratitude emerged. From there it moved on to becoming thankful for special people who were a part of my life and eventually for opportunities and the directions my life was taking that, at times, exceeded expectations.
The attitude of gratitude that has emerged in my very old age has felt different in its focus and nature from earlier experiences. (Yet another of aging’s surprises.) Here I am, seriously and noticeably losing ground in my capacities, I’m increasingly dependent, yet I experience more and deeper gratitude than I’ve had at any other age. It contains all the aspects of gratefulness of earlier decades plus new, added dimensions. It feels deeper and richer.
My appreciation of and for family, friends and colleagues increasingly incorporates subtle, specific elements about them that I now notice and respond to. And it’s not just their positive aspects or kindnesses, but also their quirkiness and differing with me. What zest and interest they add to life.
A change that surprised me the most is the gratitude associated with my ARCs (age related changes) as they moved in to become my constant companions. They alter my capacities and make coping more difficult. They constantly invade the nooks and crannies in my everyday life both predictably and unpredictably. They narrow my physical world. I’m grateful that they: are normal, came so late and entered so gently that they give me time to adapt as they grow. And, annoying as they are, they keep me on my toes and certainly never allow me to become bored.
There’s my sturdy body that just keeps hanging in there and even now allows me to take it for granted in many ways. My airway is open. My heart keeps beating regularly. My immune system still keeps me hale and hearty. My mind keeps offering up new ideas, allows me to play with them and (if I hurry and capture them on the computer or in other concrete ways). Each part seems to be trying its best to keep me functioning happily.
The home with its view of the mountains and cityscape that my husband built for us beginning in 1946 still brings his presence. It wraps itself around me and testifies to his artistry, skill and his belief in doing things the right way so they would last. Its layout and planning supports me well in my aging.
My family, friends and other support systems are wonderful as they share my aging and keep me a part of their lives. They fill in the gaps so smoothly. My professional colleagues both challenge and support me, enabling me to reach and stretch even now. My cat and I are aging together. Initially rather aloof, she’s found that laps and contact are indeed comforting.
The path that gratefulness has taken in the recent decades, has been a surprisingly satisfying experience. And it’s nice to have discovered that in addition to the experience, it offers the potential side benefits of better health.