An attitude of gratitude
by Ruth Halvorson, Becketwood Member
Some thirty years ago I invited a friend to lead a retreat for Seniors at the ARC. One of his remarks that day became memorable for me. He said, “The mark of aging well is gratitude.” I have shared this many times and I find it continues to take on greater significance for me. How do we live gratefully? What significance does gratitude have for us and the lives we lead? One of the first things we learned from our parents as children was to say “Thank you” when we received a gift or kindness. Gratitude is a virtue we nurture and cultivate our entire life. An attitude of gratitude influences and shapes all aspects of life, how we act and how we respond.
For several years my husband Loren and I delivered Meals on Wheels to a number of shut-ins in St. Paul. As the door opened at the home of one elderly woman, I could always expect something like “Good morning, Sweetheart, isn’t this a beautiful day! Thank you so much for coming.” Her genuine spirit of gratitude always brought joy to my day.
Gratitude is a choice, an attitude that makes life better for ourselves and for others. We never regret having thanked someone or affirmed someone. Research has found that gratitude is a vital ingredient for happiness in all aspects of life. Other research has concluded that gratitude is one of three major elements important for leading a meaningful life, together with family relationships, and living in the present moment.
There is a connection between gratitude and living in the present moment. Being present to the moment is sometimes referred to as mindfulness- a beautiful word. Mindfulness is a simple practice of being attentive, aware, and awake to what surrounds us and to the gifts that come to us throughout our day. Life itself is gift. It is easy, however, to overlook the simple day-to-day blessings we regularly enjoy, and take them for granted and perhaps even declare our entitlement to what we receive. Writer G. K. Chesterton once said that we should consider, “taking things with gratitude and not taking things for granted”.
Although many of us at Becketwood are experiencing gradual diminishment of strength, energy, vision, hearing or mobility, we also realize the abundance of gifts surrounding us; the beautiful and healing nature close around us, the pleasures of food and dining together, our families and friends, beautiful music, informative lectures, caring and helpful neighbors, stimulating conversations and many random acts of kindness. We can create our own list.
When we periodically take time to savor the scene around us it nurtures our souls with gratitude. I remember an ordinary experience I had many years ago that became an extraordinary experience. I went for a walk in the country on a beautiful spring day. I happened to have a pencil and note pad in my pocket. I decided to sit for awhile under a lovely tree that seemed to beckon me. As I sat there, I remembered the pad and pencil in my pocket. I took it out and began to write down everything I saw. The more I looked, the more I saw-discoveries I would never have made had I not intentionally stopped and paid attention. The list on my pad was endless - shapes, colors, intricacies, formations. Then I began to write down everything I heard. I had the same experience. The more I listened the more I heard. Again, my list went on and on - nearby sounds, far-off sounds, gentle sounds, sharp sounds, children’s voices. This richness had always been there, but I had not taken the time to stop and really listen, to really look and take delight in what I heard and saw. All of this flooded me with a spirit of gratitude and I remembered what Julian of Norwich once said, “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything”.
My husband died two and one-half years ago following a long illness. I would have liked to have had more years with him. My goal now, however, is to try to live with gratitude, rather than lament, challenging as that can be. An attitude of gratitude does not take away the feelings of loneliness, emptiness, or the absence of his presence, but it does move me into a better place and helps to transform the difficult moments. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude can make each day feel richer and more life-giving. Gratitude is a significant tool for healing and reintegration. The memories, opportunities, experiences, and celebrations of a shared life can never be taken away; they remain in our memories and can be brought forth again and again to bring both gratitude and joy.
There are groups that share a practice of listing three things for which they are grateful for before going to sleep and three things for which they are grateful for upon waking in the morning. This simple practice helps set the tone for the day.
Yes, the mark of aging well is gratitude.