Growing Old Gratefully: How to See Each Year as a Gift

Growing old gratefully. Yes, you read that right. Gratefully. Why on earth would I be grateful for getting older, less youthful, and more wrinkly with every passing year?? I hear you cry. Let me tell you why I’m trying hard to do just that.

One bright Saturday afternoon some years back, while chatting with my uncle, he reminded me that my fortieth birthday was fast approaching. I rolled my eyes and said, “Yes, Uncle, thanks for the reminder.”

He looked at me for a minute and then said, “You know, you should be grateful for every year of life you get. Some people don’t get to see their fortieth birthday.” That remark was quite sobering, and I felt humbled.

That conversation made me think. Why do we have such a fear about getting older? Why the almost shameful stigma attached to it?

Apart from the obvious slowing down, loss of vitality, and general “nearer to deathness,” I realized that much of our fear of aging is set in vanity. We equate youth with beauty, desirability, and happiness. We attach the opposite traits to old age; in fact, we fear that as we get older, we become almost obsolete.

In a society that worships beauty and vitality, it’s little wonder that we are all panic-buying anti-aging serums, trying anti-aging diets, following anti-aging fitness regimes, and generally trying our utmost to stave off any sign that we are getting older.

The problem with all of this is, well, we age. It’s a fact of life and it will happen whether you fight it or just allow it. This leads me to wonder… what if I just stop fighting and fearing the inevitable?

Does that mean I will retire myself to Dr. Scholl’s sandals and elasticated waists? Never!! But what if I just accepted, embraced, or even, dare I say it, was grateful to still be here, enjoying life on our beautiful planet? I mean, really, who—apart from greedy, capitalist, big business—benefits from our aging phobia anyway?

It’s funny that we use the word anti-aging too. We use that word for things that are considered unacceptable in society like anti-bullying or anti-social, as if we had any control over getting older. Using that small, four-lettered word subtly feeds us the message that aging is not only unwanted, it’s down right unacceptable. How ridiculous!!

I propose that we change our own narrative. That we embrace aging as a privilege not granted to everyone. To see it as a gift.

In Japanese culture, the mindset is quite different. Japanese conceptions of aging are rooted in Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist philosophical traditions that characterize aging as maturity. Old age is thus understood as a socially valuable part of life, even a time of “spring” or “rebirth” after a busy period of working and raising children” (Karasawa et al., 2011).

That really appeals to me. See each year as it is—a celebration that we are still here, still enjoying life, still with our loved ones, still with a future, in another phase of our beautiful existence with new and exciting opportunities still ahead.

I believe that grateful and positive aging is all about the mindset, which is true of so many things that affect our attitudes.

If we cultivate a mindset where we grow older with a grateful heart, living each day to its fullest in our natural bodies and our natural skin, happy that we still get to watch the sunset and feel the warm embrace of those we love and are still a living breathing part of our wonderful universe; then I believe we stand a chance of drowning out the negative messages put out into society that getting older is something to be ashamed of. That we should go and find a rock to crawl under until we die unless we can claw back some semblance of youth, or at least die trying.

I propose that with a healthy mindset towards growing older, we give ourselves the right to grow old gratefully.

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