Monday is July 1, better known to those of us in the North as Canada Day. The Canada Day weekend is a time when the whole country takes time to enjoy family, community, and summer, and to celebrate Canada’s birthday, this year its 152nd. For me, part of that celebration is a quiet, personal sense of gratitude that by a fairly arbitrary decision taken by a 17-year old (me) 56 years ago – to attend McGill University, seemingly for 4 years – I had not only chosen a wonderful university experience in a fantastic city (Montreal), but had also serendipitously chosen a wonderful new country in which to spend the rest of my life. My gratitude for having become Canadian knows no bounds.
I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but if you google “gratitude” and “health” you will quickly come to many links to research suggesting that practicing gratitude can provide some pretty significant health-related benefits. Among these benefits are: increased patience, which provides plenty of health benefits on its own; an easing of depression; and, increased happiness.
These three benefits, and the other 4, 18, 28, or however many more benefits various articles claim, serve us particularly well as we age. Patience in all things and the ability to find happiness in the small things in life can make all the difference in ensuring that we continue to get the most out of life even when we can’t do everything we used to be able to do, or at least not as fast or as well. It allows us to feel gratitude for what we have been able to do in the past and gratitude for what we can still do. Practicing gratitude is in some ways the opposite of dwelling on regrets, which gets us nothing but dissatisfaction.
One example won’t be a game-changer for most of you, but it is for me: I can’t run at the moment! Possibly many of you think that running is a pretty strange (aka stupid) thing to be doing at the best of times, but I love it. I run – or at least I used to – slowly, but for the years that I have been able to run, admittedly later in life than most people start, it has provided me with a glimpse of mindfulness, a sense of freedom, and a sense of personal accomplishment. Now I have some soft tissue issues that may or may not resolve themselves, and so I may or may not be able to resume my running “habit”. Realistically, the odds aren’t good at my age! But … I am immensely grateful for the years in which I have been able to run. I’m grateful that I put on my running shoes and went out that door. I’m grateful that I didn’t pass that opportunity by and later wish I had made the effort. My husband, brother, and sister-in-law and I share many happy memories of destination runs, which were very special experiences. For the moment I’ll concentrate on overcoming my soft tissue issues so that I can at least walk long distances if I can’t run. If I can’t walk long distances any more, I’ll work on being grateful for all the places that I’ve visited and hiked over many years.
Yesterday I happened to visit an older friend who can no longer do many of the things she used to take for granted, including her long-time passion of rug hooking, because of severe arthritis. For her there was acceptance, but that’s not the case with everyone I meet. There are two ways to come to terms with this kind of reality: either spend most of your time dwelling on how hard life is, which would be understandable even though not helpful, or concentrate on reminding yourself how blessed you were to have been able to do so much for so long. Those are the choices. The second one is harder, because there’s no doubt that there’s both frustration and pain involved as one’s world becomes more limited. But the first option, although tempting, not only makes you unhappy, it also makes everyone around you unhappy. It’s a good way to end up having fewer people coming by. It’s a downward spiral.
Practicing gratitude is the way to go. It provides you with a win-win resolution to bad situations; it makes it easier for you and also easier for those around you. As an added benefit, when you make it easier on those around you, they stay around, and, of course, having people you care about stay around is yet another prime factor in maintaining good health.
So, on this first day of our Canada Day weekend, I encourage all of you to spend some time thinking about those things in your life for which you are grateful. It’s bound to make you feel good. And then you can stand and sing Oh Canada; that always makes me feel good. [If you’re not Canadian, you’re still allowed to sing it, or you can substitute something that makes you feel as good.]
Happy birthday, Canada!