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How Retirees Can Cultivate More Gratitude in 2021

Two people can walk down the exact same street and have completely different experiences. One will see paint cracking on the houses and trash lying on the street. The other might notice what lovely colors all the homes are painted and on the ground, they notice flowers or fall leaves. It's the same street, but who do you think is enjoying life more? 

Our thoughts have the power to shape our reality. Namely, positive thoughts and feelings of appreciation, aka gratitude, has the power to change our lives for the better. Perhaps you think of gratitude as something your parents or your pastor told you to ‘be’. “Be grateful, it could be worse!” 

Or maybe it’s something you do at the Thanksgiving table—go around and have everyone say something they’re thankful for—and then don’t think about it again until next year. But what if gratitude could be a year-round practice? How do you think your life might change? Just some food for thought for retirees as we approach the end of 2020. 

What is Gratitude? 

How would you define ‘gratitude’? We’re all familiar with the conceptwe probably know it as a good thing but haven’t thought much more about it. Is it an emotion? A state of mind? An attitude? 

Research professor, author, and TED talks superstar Brené Brown, Ph.D., has studied shame, joy, and gratitude for over a decade. Like others, Brown defines gratitude as an emotion—a feeling of being ‘appreciative of kindness or benefits received’but also as a practice. Gratitude is a feeling, says Brown, but it should also be something you actively do. 

Her research has found that joy is directly connected to gratitude. Over 12 years of interviews and over 11,000 pieces of data, Brown found a common thread among everyone who claimed to feel joyful in their lives: they actively practiced gratitude. The conclusion? We have the power to invite more joy into our lives, and making a conscious effort to be grateful is one surefire way to do it.

“It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” - Jesuit priest

The Life-Changing Power of Gratitude

From ads to social media and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, so many aspects of society are designed to remind us of what we lack. But gratitude helps us remember what we already have. Over time, little thoughts of appreciation can have profound effects on physical and mental health (both of which are key to a successful retirement, by the way). 

Professor and researcher Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. has found that gratitude improves mental, physical, and social well-being. Gratitude’s reported (and long-lasting) effects include: 

  • Improved mental and emotional health
  • Increased optimism
  • Feelings of being at peace
  • Greater sense of connection in times of loss or crises
  • Higher self-esteem and self-worth
  • Heightened energy levels
  • Strengthened heart, immune system, and decreased blood pressure
  • Better emotional and academic intelligence
  • Expanded capacity for compassion
  • Lowered stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Increases your likelihood to exercise
  • Greater connection to spirituality

Develop a Gratitude Practice

If you suffer from anxiety, you sometimes feel lacking or find yourself looking for ‘more’ (without knowing what that really looks like) you might benefit from a gratitude practice. Honestly, we can all gain a lot by integrating a few of these simple exercises.

If you’re not sure how to ‘do’ gratitude or what it means to develop a gratitude practice, start here: 

Celebrate Small Wins

Many of us achieve daily wins in our lives without really acknowledging them. We may even set big goals, achieve them, and move on to the next one without even celebrating. A gratitude practice reminds us to stop, notice, and appreciate our wins, big and small. A long walk that’s good for the body, mind, and soul? Celebrate it!

The 5 Things Exercise

Gratitude journaling is a popular tool for practicing gratitude because it’s easy and effective. Write down 3-5 things in a journal or on a piece of scratch paper that made you happy. Big things, small things, medium things. Anything from a chat with an old friend to a perfect cappuccino or the herbs in the garden. Try doing this every day for 21 days and you’ll see a positive difference in your mood. 

Say Thank You More Often 

There’s a reason many parents raise their kids to say “please” and “thank you”, and it’s not just about being polite. By acknowledging a kindness, benefit, or service you have received, saying “thank you” promotes gratitude within you. And it acknowledges the person who served you. You like it when your boss says thank you, right? People in service professions like it too (especially now). So say thank you often and with sincerity.

Flip the Script 

When something negative happens, practice flipping it to a positive. Turn it around by finding, and focusing on, the silver lining. Say your car breaks down in the rain. Try to focus on the positives: the spontaneous call to your sister while you waited for help, the fact you realized something was wrong before anyone got hurt, the peace of mind your AARP membership gives you, or whatever. Do this until ‘“flipping the script” becomes a fun game (with big fringe benefits).

The holiday season comes with the pressure to do more or buy more…even in the middle of a pandemic and economic downturn. As the holidays approach in this weird, tumultuous, and socially-distanced year, we hope you’re finding creative ways to connect with others, say ‘I love you’, and yes, be grateful. Take this chance to put your mental health first. It will definitely help your mood now, and you could see the benefits all year-round.  

From the entire team at Wealth Legacy Institute, we wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Now go eat some pie! 

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