Gratitude is one of those tricky things in life that seems so natural when things are going well and so elusive when they are not. However, studies have shown over and over again that maintaining a foundation of gratitude is one of the key ingredients to a long, healthy, and fulfilling life.
For senior citizens and those transitioning to a stage in life where they might be less independent than they once were, cultivating an attitude of gratitude can make a notable difference in their quality of life.
Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, is widely regarded as the world’s leading scientific expert in the study of gratitude. Emmons recommends regular gratitude exercises for people struggling with difficult circumstances or seasons of life where they might be dealing with negative emotions brought on by transitions or things outside of their control.
The Gratitude Journal
One gratitude exercise most often recommended by Emmons and others in the field of emotional psychology is to keep a gratitude journal.
In this practice, someone wishing to be happier and enjoy the wonderful things in their life might take time to jot down in a little notebook the things they have to be thankful for throughout the day, whether it is in the present or a distant memory. Once a week, the participant can take some time to elaborate on all the beautiful things they have had the opportunity to experience or are currently experiencing.
As the journaling practice continues, many practitioners find more resonance in the writing, finding that their entries are more detailed, focused, and personal, says Dr. Jennifer Strider, a naturopathic doctor specializing in mental health and emotional wellness.
“The writer will see how they have begun to embrace life and, in turn, find more positive things with which to surround themselves,” she says.
The Effects of Gratitude
Emmons and others have seen significant results from gratitude journaling after just a few weeks. Here are just a few of the notable improvements:
Physical Advantages of Being Grateful
- stronger immune systems
- fewer noticeable aches and pains
- lower blood pressure
- increased energy and desire to exercise
- longer and more refreshing sleep
Psychological Advantages of Being Grateful
- higher levels of positive feelings and emotions
- increased alertness, vitality, and being awake
- more joy and pleasure in everyday life
- increased optimism and happiness
Social Advantages of Being Grateful
- more helpful, generous, and compassionate
- more forgiving
- more outgoing
- less lonely and isolated
How to Help A Senior Find Gratitude Again
If you are looking for some ways for you or your loved one to get to the place where journaling is an option, or for some reason writing or journaling may never be an option, here are some additional activities that we have found particularly effective.
Reminiscing is a Powerful and Necessary Thing
Reminiscing is an important part of Senior life. It doesn’t have to be just about remembering “better days”. Actively listen and ask questions. It can be a great way for you or the senior in your life to pass along acquired wisdom or tell family stories that will enrich the lives of the generations that are coming up. It’s also a great way to remind them of all the amazing experiences they’ve accumulated and all the interesting people they’ve met. If you’re lucky enough to be on the listening end, remember that what you are practicing is as old as humanity, the passing along of experience from one generation to the next through personal story.
Old Pictures and Home Movies Serve as a Powerful Reminder
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and if that picture is moving, it’s even better. As we enter into our golden years, it is not uncommon to begin to forget the details of things that were once very clear. We have heard it described as the color disappearing from one’s memories. Looking at old photos or old home videos restores that color and clarity and can remind us about all of the amazing things we’ve been a part of, and more importantly, how they made us feel.
Take Time to Let a Senior Know how you Feel
If you or your loved one is having a tough time transitioning or is struggling with negativity, isolation, or depression, remember to take the time to let them know how important they are to you and all of the things they’ve meant to you over the years.
It isn’t uncommon for senior life to be accompanied by feelings of being left behind or forgotten. The best and easiest way to combat these feelings is to do everything in your power to counter this with contact. If you can, visit them, schedule weekly times and activities. If you don’t live close enough to visit, make time to call, Skype, or Facetime. These scheduled times are a great way to keep a senior struggling with negativity or isolation to feel connected and often become the times of the week they look forward to the most.