An attitude of gratitude keeps people feeling hopeful despite the challenges of aging.
Being thankful helps people to feel more optimistic, especially when experiencing difficulties and anxieties related to getting older.
The conclusions come from a study of people in their 80s and 90s in Japan.
Despite worries for the future, people developed a type of ‘quiet hope’.
Dr Iza Kavedzija, the study’s author, said:
“As people move through life, through their later years, many experience a sense of loss.
But this time for them also offers opportunities to reflect more on life, with a heightened realisation of their interconnections with others.
If one habitually invokes the involvement of others and their role in one’s life, one is reminded how much other people have helped them, in countless small and more substantive ways.
The same events seem different when one focuses on how others have helped.”
The anthropological study was carried out in the city of Osaka.
Dr Kavedzija found that older people experienced many common worries about aging: such as developing dementia or becoming a burden on their children.
They accepted this uncertainty, though, and remained actively involved with the wider community.
That involvement fed a sense of confidence and security.
Key to this was thinking about the past with gratitude, Dr Kavedzija said:
“An attitude of gratitude was embedded in older peoples’ recollections of the past, but also allowed them to think about the present in a hopeful way.
A world in which one has received much good will from others is a different place than one in which one has experienced loss, even if the facts of life are the same.
Gratitude in Japan can be seen to a large extent as a recognition of how much one relies on others as one moves through life.
Gratitude highlights feelings of interdependence in the social world.”
Older people were thankful for those who had played a significant role in their lives.
They were thankful for their partners, families, the opportunity to work and lead a full a life.
Dr Kavedzija said:
“While people in Japan might hesitate to say they are happy, gratitude is mentioned frequently.
Through appreciation, dependence on others is not seen as simply a burden or a potential source of embarrassment, but also as moving and deeply meaningful.
Meaningful relationships and encounters with others comprise a valuable foundation for what Japanese people call ikigai, or that which makes life worth living.”
The study was published in the journal Anthropology & Aging (Kavedzija, 2020).