Growing Older With Gratitude

Grateful People Thrive in Every Stage in Life

People clapping their hands
Be grateful everyday and pass it forward. Getty Images

I remember hearing years ago the story of Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers, speaking at a National Press Club luncheon. These events are known for bringing the press together with some of the biggest newsmakers and top decision-makers in the world. When Mr. Rogers was announced as one of the keynote speakers, I’m sure the attendees thought it would be a much lighter lunch than usual. After all, Mr. Rogers was one of the world’s greatest advocates for neighborliness.

As Fred Rogers approached the microphone, I wonder if folks knew what was about to hit them.

He began by taking out his pocket watch and explaining that he wanted to start his speech with two minutes of silence, during which he invited each person to “remember people in their past — parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and others — who had made it possible for them to accomplish so much,” as reported by author Thomas Long in his book Testimony: Talking Ourselves Into Being Christian.

The room was quiet. Two minutes of silence in a full room is a long time. The only noises that broke through the quiet were the sniffles and muted sobbing of the rich and powerful fighting back tears as they were moved by the grateful memories of those who had made sacrifices on their behalf and who had given them so many gifts.

Ted Talks and Inspired Thinking

This story about the beloved Mr. Rogers reminds me of today’s TED Talks — conferences featuring presentations by the great change-makers and inspired thinkers of the world.

The TED mission begins: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

TED allows us to peek into the brains of humanity’s greatest innovators and society’s most inspirational leaders. Through TED, we are motivated to push ourselves further and believe more fully in our potential.

If Mr. Rogers were to give a TED Talk on the key to being a good neighbor, or a good person, I think he would start and finish his speech with gratitude. Thankfulness may be the key to every happiness.

In my years working with people who are navigating the aging process, I have found that grateful people thrive in every stage of life. Grateful people  look for the good in their lives and have no problem letting others know they are appreciated, valued, and loved. This quality of being draws people towards you and keeps grateful people in close-knit community.

People Who Are Grateful are Happier

Science backs up my personal and professional experience with thankfulness. Research by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough shows that individuals who are intentionally grateful have better physical health and are happier. Their studies have shown that those who chose to be grateful had a plethora of desirable traits. Thankful people sleep better, are optimistic about the future, get sick less often, exercise more, and have more energy and focus than people who are not determined to be grateful.

These scientific results aren’t a surprise. All of us know grateful people are the most likeable. Our experience with gratitude affirms the close family ties the study tells us appreciativeness breeds. We also know what it’s like to be around someone who feels entitled, or chooses to be a victim of every person, malady, and assorted trial the world has inflicted on him or her. If you want to age in happiness, connected to family, friends, and neighbors, cultivating gratitude might be the most important decision you can make.

Live Life with More Gratitude

In addition to spending time being thankful each day, here are a few easy ideas for living life with more gratitude at any age:

  • Start a gratitude journalstudies show that people who take the time to write about what they are thankful for are more optimistic about the future than people who write about their hassles or neutral life events.
  • Say thank you – acknowledging that you are thankful for someone else helps cultivate gratitude both in your own life and in the other person’s life.
  • Teach someone else about gratitude – the best way to deepen your own practice or knowledge is to share it with another person.   

For whom are you thankful? To whom do you need to give thanks? When I start to express my gratitude for my friends and family, I continue to find other things and people for whom I’m thankful. Gratitude breeds gratitude. Thankfulness is contagious. If you are looking for a way to change your life and then the world, start by giving thanks. If you are finding it difficult to sleep at night, don’t count sheep, count your blessings.