The meaning of gratitude changes when you’re extremely old

Header for a blog. Words: Engaging with Aging: as long as we're green, we're growing. Photo: an older couple walking through a field of lupins
Engaging With Aging: a blog for which I have much gratitude

In Engaging with Aging, 99-year-old Doris Carnevali shows how the meaning of gratitude changes for the very old. Gratitude has different sources, different explanations, and different flavours.

Once again I’m brimming with admiration for the writer, who is one of my role models. In her writing she makes full use of the analytical and experimental skills developed in a long career as nurse practitioner, professor and trainer. Above all, she “engages with aging.” Instead of complaining or tolerating or denying the age-related changes (“ARCs”) in her body, mind and spirit, Doris Carnevali puts them under a microscope.

She asks herself this sort of question:

  • Precisely what is happening to me now?
  • How does this specific change affect my daily life?
  • How can I ameliorate or work around the difficulties it causes?
  • What am I feeling?

Over and over again, the result of this work is reported in her blog. The data she collects about her own aging body and mind and spirit is as objective as possible. The actions she takes are hugely varied: adapting to change, changing her surroundings, developing new habits, tweaking her lifestyle, reframing a situation, or mindfully communicating her needs. Where nothing can be changed for the better, acceptance. Or better still, gratitude!

If I should ever feel sorry for myself (and I do, dammit, for no reason or a nonsense reason), Doris is a good person to turn to. She has a unique approach to life that fuels her enthusiasm for life. And her gratitude.

Let me quote a few words from her blog post on occasions for gratitude before you go read the original. Acronyms to note:

  • ARCs are age-related changes, for example deteriorating eye-sight or arthritis popping up in a new body part
  • GOs are gratitude opportunities, i.e. opportunities to feel grateful

Insights about growth in the meaning of gratitude

Studying and writing about gratitude and its desirable side effects has made me more alert to gratifying situations in my own everyday life. What I found that amazed me was that gratitude opportunities (GOs) were popping up all over in unexpected places. What they had in common was that many seemed to be occurring just because my age related changes (ARCs) have progressed so much.[…]

I seem to be experiencing two types of pleasurable glows that trigger gratitude. Some are soft, puffy sensations that envelop me for longer periods of time. Others are sharper, shorter and very situation-oriented.[…]

Engaging with Aging. Doris Carnevali writing about the meaning of gratitude

Exploring the meaning of gratitude

This is the second of four posts Doris Carnevali is writing in November about the meaning of gratitude for someone very old. I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m thinking that my default response to age-related changes to fitness, strength, flexibility, memory, cognitive functioning, digestion—whatever!—could be more like hers. Curious, analytical, appreciative, and creative.

What do you reckon? Has the meaning of gratitude changed for you too, as you grow older?

A Kindle book: Engaging with Aging. Gems from Doris Carnevali’s blog

6 thoughts on “The meaning of gratitude changes when you’re extremely old

  1. I think the meaning of gratitude changes as we age. I remember being a kid, and gratitude was self-centered and fleeting. As an adult, I can recognize and be thankful for other people’s blessings. Of course, I’m still thankful for my very own chocolate bar I don’t have to share with anyone else.:-)

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      True, a child’s empathy would rarely stretch to feeling the gratitude felt by another. Can I have a bite of your chocolate? Not even if I say please?

  2. alison41 says:

    A very useful and interesting approach. Hmmmm …..

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks– I love that Hmmmmm….. A better response there is none.

  3. srbottch says:

    I’m going to check her book, if my newly aching hip lets me. I think I need a dose of her medicine. Thanks for posting.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I always remember elders telling me that a day above ground was a good day. It seemed morbid as a kid, but I get it now.

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