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Gratitude grows with the passing years

Published June 25. 2011 09:01AM

The older we get, the more we are thankful for every single thing - things we once never thought about but now are important.

Here is one small example. For most of my life, I have hated my legs. Even when I was so thin that I could pose as a starving waif, my legs were heavy.

But lately, I find myself feeling really grateful for those legs.

I felt it especially as I was carrying a kayak up a slight hill, having to step carefully over the rough terrain. While I was carrying the kayak, I said a short thank you for legs sturdy enough to do that job.

When I was biking yesterday, instead of thinking how I need to steel myself to pedal more miles, I said a prayer of thanks. I remembered to be grateful for having legs that can pump and pedal.

I think that's what happens to a lot of people as they get older. Instead of lamenting what they can no longer do, they are thankful for what they can do.

As we get older, we sometimes feel thankful for simple things we once took for granted - like being able to breathe easily. I have a friend who is happy as a kid when he can breathe easily enough to dance two numbers in a row. He spends his nights on oxygen so he knows the blessing of being able to breathe normally.

I did a Father's Day interview with a guy who voiced the thought that as he ages, he is happy about what he calls "the craziest things" he never thought of when he was young.

"I'm happy when I see another sunrise," he says. "I'm happy when I can go to the bathroom."

He says he means this as more than the bathroom humor that people often joke about.

"As we age, we all get problems," he says. "In fact, no matter how old we are, there are bound to be problems of some kind. But we can be happy through anything, if we set our mind to be," he said.

We were sitting around a table at the time with a few older folks. They were all nodding their heads in agreement as they listened to him.

They talked about not having much as kids but still being incredibly happy.

Manny, my girlfriend's father, said he grew up poor on New York's Lower East Side. "My parents and their six kids lived in a three-room apartment and we had less than nothing. But I don't think a rich kid could have had a happier childhood," he said.

Before he passed away I was privileged to call Bob Elliston a close friend. Those who remember him know he was one of the happiest guys on earth. We had to know he was inordinately happy because Bobby told us that at every opportunity.

The Palmerton man also told us what made him so happy. Right at the top of the list was his wife, Ruth. He never called her that. He called her Queen because she was his queen.

Bob Elliston developed a huge following of the Palmerton Post newsletter which he emailed to people.

Times News editor Bob Urban said what was astonishing to a newsman was that Elliston wrote only about simple everyday happenings - things like having fresh tomatoes from the garden or eating one of Queen's delicious feasts. But he wrote with such joy.

I think that's what attracted so many readers. They wanted to be reminded of the simple joys of everyday living.

One time Bob told me when he was cleaning out a desk he found the old daily journals of his father. He was nice enough to let me take them home to read them.

Each day Bob's dad recorded the day's simple happenings, just as Bob did. And, like his son, Elliston Senior focused on the joys of everyday family life and the blessings of sitting down each night to a delicious meal.

What struck me is that he was writing at the height of the Great Depression. But he was happy, happy, happy with life.

Back then, people learned to be happy with simple things. They were filled with gratitude for having a family, for having food to eat and for every small thing that came their way.

Have we gotten away from all that? As we gain so many material things in life, do we lose our sense of wonder, our awe and our gratitude for life's small pleasures?

I don't know. You tell me what you think.

They've done so many studies that show the happiest people are those who have a keenly developed sense of appreciation for everything.

Somehow, I don't need to read the results of a survey to believe that. I feel it in my very being.

As happy people age and lose those they love as well as some of the abilities they used to have, they don't lose their sense of gratitude. If anything, it grows with each passing year.

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