Photo: Kathy Laurenhue, CEO of Wiser Now Inc.

Aging in the Right Place: Being grateful could be the spark that helps you age well

Posted on December 23, 2019 by Michael Moore Jr., Herald-Tribune Media Group

A growing trend in positive psychology continues to see positive health and mood impacts associated with practicing gratitude and optimism regularly.

Thanksgiving has come and gone while other holidays are drawing near, but it may not be too late to stop and take a second out of your day to say, “Thank you.”

Gratitude, it turns out, could be another one of those ever-elusive keys to aging in the right place. But can a simple “thanks” really change your life and help you age for the better?

A lot of people seem to think so.

There’s been a growing trend in positive psychology research that consistently links gratitude with higher levels of happiness and, in some cases, more positive health outcomes. Being thankful, experts argue, allows you to feel more positive emotions, better equips you to deal with adversity, and may even help you formulate stronger relationships. All of these things are important not only when it comes to aging, but when it comes to life.

A study by Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude and positive psychology, asked participants to write a few sentences each week. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that happened during the week, while the other group wrote about things that annoyed them each day. The third group wrote about events without any emphasis on them being positive or negative. After ten weeks, those who wrote about what they were grateful for reported feeling better about their lives, exercised more, and had fewer hospital visits over that period of time.

If you ask Kathy Laurenhue, gratitude is just one of many essential ingredients that can be used in tandem to make us happier and healthier at any age. She is CEO of Wiser Now Inc., a Bradenton-based organization with a focus on increasing successful aging outcomes by introducing a combination of what they call “nature, nurture, and fun.”

“A lot of times, you hear about those gratitude journals, and they are great, but sometimes they can feel like a lot of work,” said Laurenhue. “But I like to focus on more of a laugh journal. Because whatever brings you pleasure is what you should focus on. Are you grateful for something? What was the most amusing thing you thought today? What made you smile today? Those are the things that make a difference. It’s important not to make it a serious thing and to keep it lighthearted.”

Her book “Creating Delight: Connecting Gratitude, Humor, and Play for all Ages” is all about that. Keeping a sense of curiosity alive by connecting gratitude, humor, and play fosters greater happiness, gives us a more hopeful outlook, and can help fend off negative emotions, she argues. By savoring life and living in the present, she said, you may be able to increase your energy, reduce stress, and strengthen social bonds — all important aspects for not just aging, but again, for life.

Emmons and numerous studies conducted by him have reached similar conclusions. He has gone to great lengths to write about how he believes gratitude works because it gives individuals the power to celebrate the present, which has an impact on the body’s biochemistry, especially when it comes to heart disease or stress-related illnesses.

A study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine found that people who were more grateful experienced better heart health, with less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms. Studies from the universities of Utah and Kentucky showed that stressed-out law students who were optimistic had stronger immune systems.

Gratitude isn’t a cure-all remedy, but a little bit of optimism, playfulness, and maybe even a sense of humor might not be bad ingredients to add to your recipe for aging successfully.

“It has nothing whatsoever to do with age and has everything to do with what sort of attitude you bring into a room,” said Laurenhue. “I feel like humor, gratitude, and play are all about kindness, and I think we just need more kindness in the world, period.”

This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

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