Many of you have probably experienced the same, lovely, Thanksgiving tradition. As the food gets cold, we go around the table and each person takes a minute to say what they are thankful for. It is a worthy tradition. The responses can vary wildly:
- The youngest, “I’m thankful for Bluey.”
- The teenage son: “Fortnite.”
- The teenage daughter: “My friends.”
- Mom will say “My missionary,” and then gets teary.
- Dad: “Donuts.” (Receives kick under the table from Mom.) “Wait! I meant Jesus.”
- Gramma: “Our pioneer heritage.”
- Grampa: “The Plan of Salvation.” (He then launches into a sermon, while the film on the gravy gets thicker.)
It’s a beautiful thing. Some responses are more serious than other, yet are still real. Eventually, someone will say, “The Gospel,” or “Our pioneer heritage,” or “The Savior.” Pretty good odds that the person who goes there will be the oldest person at the table. You can always count on Grandma to work Family History into most any family gathering.
And that is a beautiful thing, too. Why do you suppose that happens? Apparently, as we get older, and we start running out of time, we tend to focus more on relationships and things we consider more “weighty.” Thant makes sense to me. And to science:
“As we age, we begin to realize that life is short. As a result, we tend to invest in more meaningful and rewarding relationships in our lives — leading to greater positivity and well-being.” (link)
“We think that as people age, they realize that they have less and less time left, so they shift goals and choose to invest in things that prioritize well-being and more harmonious relationships.” (link)
Not to be morbid, but “The flowers smell sweeter, the closer you are to the grave.” (link)
More surprising, was that I found that science has actually proven that when it comes to gratitude, old people are simply better at it than young or middle-aged folks.
The most obvious reason is that the sheer weight of experience give older people more perspective. They can look back across their lives and find things to be thankful for, because often, they lived through times that weren’t all that great and have a much broader frame of reference.
I was surprised to learn that there might be a biological reason for this as well. Turns out that as you get older, your brain processes things differently:
“Researchers are beginning to unravel the biological and developmental underpinnings of gratitude, and they’re finding reason to believe it may be easier to feel grateful as we grow older. Neuroscientists have suggested older people have a sunnier outlook because the limbic system, particularly the amygdala, an area of the brain involved in emotional attention and memory, becomes less active in response to negative information. At the same time, older individuals maintain or even increase their reactivity to positive information.” (link)
Simply put, as we get older, our brains become better at looking past the negative and focusing on the positive. Much to my surprise, I am already finding this to be true, and I’m not even (very) old yet! I guess my amygdala is starting to *singing* accentuate the positive.
“Counting blessings is better than recounting problems.” – Thomas Monson
Do we just wait until we get old to become grateful? Bad idea. Here are some thoughts about the importance of gratitude:
“In some quiet way, the expression and feelings of gratitude have a wonderful cleansing or healing nature. Gratitude brings warmth to the giver and the receiver alike.”— Elder Robert D. Hales
“Gratitude is of the very essence of worship. … When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your lives.”— Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley
“A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.”– James E. Faust (Link)
Gratitude needs to be something we prioritize in our lives. Eventually, our brains and the ticking clock will make it easier. But how much sweeter it is if we can feel that way because we choose to feel that way!
What are we grateful for? That is a pretty good question for self-evaluation. I hope it’s more about Jesus and less about donuts.
This Thanksgiving, if your tradition is to go around the table expressing thanks, watch and see how age plays into the depth of the gratitude, and the type of things that are mentioned. Me? I’m planning on taking the Grampa role.
I feel that I have so much to be grateful for. I am inordinately blessed. As life goes on, it becomes easier to understand how we can and should be grateful for everything – even the bad stuff. Time, experience and perspective can help us understand what the Lord is asking: That we should receive “all things with thankfulness.” (D&C 78:19)
Even on our worst days there is so much to be grateful for. I love Thanksgiving because it gives us a moment to step back and remember how blessed we are. Then we can resume thinking about the lists of all the things we want people to buy for us. Wait..I meant thinking about Jesus.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I am grateful for your love and continued support.