Spirituality and an Attitude of Gratitude

News from Senior Healthcare Advisors

By Dr. Marilyn B. Field

Some say our physical body ages slowly but the spirit is always capable of renewal, growth, and even rebirth as one matures. Positive aging is an important concept that is gaining recognition as an approach toward a better understanding of the lives of seniors throughout the world. Positive aging involves the various strategies in which seniors approach life’s challenges associated with aging, and how specific strategies work for all seniors to age in a more positive way.

Spirituality and religion have many similarities, but are not the same things. Religion is often viewed as an organized practice with certain teachings and rituals. Spirituality tends to be focused on a lifestyle and belief in a higher power. However, many religious seniors have a spiritual foundation in their lives, and many spiritual people attend organized religious services.

There are many benefits to spirituality for everyone, including seniors. According to Merck and Co. (2022), studies have shown that spirituality is viewed by seniors as a positive force that helps them to face life with more hope and resilience; improve familial and social relationships, and improve coping skills with everyday stressors such as health or financial concerns. As with religious institutions, spiritually-based programs provide a sense of community and prevent social deprivation. Seniors involved in community-based spiritual activities, such as yoga and meditation, have more opportunities for people to enquire about their wellbeing and communicate information and ideas with others.

Spiritual and/or religious organizations provide support networks that can aid with practical needs such as transportation and meals, in addition to mental and emotional support.

Spiritual exercises also provide numerous physical health benefits. The Mayo Clinic (2021) reported Spiritual and religious people literally live longer. A review of the literature revealed those findings were corroborated by 18 studies. Those who practice religious/spiritual programs have less cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Even more so, spiritual/religious seniors tend to wear their seat belts, eat healthier, exercise more, and attend preventive screenings.

Psychological Benefits to Spirituality

  • A hopeful and positive attitude about health, wellness, and life leads to improved health outcomes and lower mortality rates

  • Provides a sense of purpose and meaning in life, which affects family and social relationships and health behaviors

  • Offers better coping skills with illness, disability, declining financial resources, loss of a spouse or partner, less likely to develop anxiety and depression

Spirituality can boost the quality of life for seniors, especially when other seniors are involved. Being able to hold candid discussions about spirituality and faith can offer a foundation for decisions and choices that may need to be made later in life.

Spirituality and an Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude is essentially an expression and a feeling of thankfulness for all of the privileges you are enjoying in life. It is a rare, yet noble trait. An attitude of gratitude reminds us on a daily basis not to take good things for granted. Having a grateful attitude increases your spiritual energy and will fill you with a sense of contentment and goodness. It will strengthen your resolve to return any favors shown to you and will give you the satisfaction of having fulfilled your commitments and obligations.

An attitude of gratitude will create a habit of appreciation and positive thinking for all good things that we are bestowed on by the Universe/God. It blesses both the giver and the receiver.

Writing a gratitude list each morning or evening, listing three things you are grateful for can actually change your entire life. It works by remapping your neural pathways into a more positive frame of mind. It is not a difficult exercise requiring a great deal of time. We all know “It’s the little things that matter”...hence, the little thank you's matter.

Just saying the words “thank you” is the most basic expression of gratitude, and will offer you happiness in return! Thanking someone shows great respect for that person, for their presence and time in your life. People hearing the words "thank you" creates a sense of inner happiness. “thank you” feel a sense of inner happiness. Saying “thank you” exudes positivity, which is a most attractive trait. For those of you who believe in Karma or “paying it forward”, a simple “thank you” can make someone feel appreciated and important; you brighten up their days in the smallest of ways. Plus, they are more likely to transfer that feeling to someone else.

Having an attitude of gratitude can be challenging amidst our everyday trials and tribulations, but not impossible. Believe it or not, gratitude is practiced and perfected by just repeating your thoughts and deeds of gratitude over time.

Gunderman (2019) reported that grateful people tend to be happy and healthy. They exhibit lower levels of depression and stress, sleep better and cope better overall with adversities. They tend to have a greater sense of life satisfaction. Even their family members and friends tend to be more content with their relationships.

Here are some ideas for spiritual practices on how to maintain an attitude of gratitude to help you stay keep centered on this fundamental way of thinking and feeling:

  1. Start each day with a gratitude list of any specifics that are on your mind or in your heart that day.

  2. Once a week, write a note or an email thanking someone for who they are, or just for being a friend; use specifics.

  3. If you are able to volunteer for any helping organizations, do so once per month.

  4. Do something out of your normal routine that is good for you!

  5. Thank God, your higher power, or the Universe for all that you have and for the people in your life before you go to sleep each night.

  6. Have a day of Thanksgiving for everything you can think of, from your pets, to strangers in the grocery store who held a door open, etc.

  7. Reflect each night on the impact your attitude of gratitude has on your life and those around you.