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How To Be Grateful When The Future Seems Bleak

Kim Shea Images November 2022

Retirement Living: Kim Shea

November usually conjures up the idea of being grateful.

“Life was empty and she had no confidence that it could ever improve.”

Many of us can quickly rattle off a long list of people, pets, and things that we are grateful for. But for those that feel like they don’t matter anymore, who have lost hope of ever feeling needed, it’s hard to feel grateful for much. When you’re in that dark place, the pain of feeling useless and alone is hard to shake.

Her Life Was Empty:

I spoke with a client in her late 60s named Tina, who was desperately unhappy with her life. She felt that her children no longer cared about her anymore. She’d retired from a job she’d enjoyed for health reasons. And she’d lost so many people in her life that mattered to her. Life was empty and she had no confidence that it could ever improve.

As I listened to Tina crying as she shared her stories, it would have been easy to get pulled into her vision of herself and her life. She had numerous physical problems that were limiting her options, and she appeared to have no human support. But I asked her about the things in life that still gave her joy. She was able to provide quite a list of things that she liked!

For a lot of people, retirement is a wonderful time of life. They have friends and family that they enjoy spending time with. They love to travel, and they have the means to do so. And they might even have a career that they still enjoy. Because they are in control of their own social and purpose calendar, life is fun. But for women like Tina, life is lonely and devoid of opportunity. It is a real challenge to try and find meaning in their lives.

“Tina, like many older women, craved making new friends and having activities to anticipate.”

How To Be Grateful:

Tina, like many older women, craved making new friends and having activities to anticipate. During COVID quarantine, that goal was almost impossible to reach. Connection is something we realize more than ever is so vital to the mental health and well-being of everybody, especially those who do not have family or friends to lean on.

At first, Tina shot down every single suggestion I brought up. When she told me she liked something and I suggested a few ways she could go after that wish, she responded with excuses why she couldn’t do it. That’s not to say that some of the excuses weren’t completely rational. It’s just that she had lost any hope of trying to find a way to get around her challenges, so her mind was closed.

We spoke again after a few weeks. She said she was going to have some surgery that was to free up one of her limitations. She suddenly was involved in a new relationship. And she had made a new connection with one of her children. She was eager to try some of my ideas for making new friends. Moreover, she was no longer crying. She sounded genuinely happy. Talk about a 180-degree turnaround! Life had potential.

“Life can be good again. Your gratitude list can be long!”

Stay Connected With Other People:

A few months later she reached out to me and told me that the relationship had fallen through and the plans she had made with one of her children had also dropped off. But she still sounded great! She wanted more ideas and more ways that she could stay connected with other people. She was interested in living again. And she wanted to know what more life had to offer for her.

Remember when life seems bleak in mid-life and retirement age, there is always a new opportunity for joy if we will just seek it out. If you can’t think of things that interest you, try asking a friend or loved one for ideas that they that they think you might enjoy.

Your Gratitude List Can Be Long!

Make sure to do this exercise with someone you genuinely respect, or you might end up getting easily frustrated and overwhelmed by their suggestions. If they suggest some things that you do like, see how you can go about it despite any limitations that you might have. 

You never know whom you might meet while trying new things that could ultimately open new vistas for you. Don’t be afraid to try like Tina did. Once you have a few wins under your belt, you may find that you have a renewed sense of purpose and desire to keep pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. Life can be good again. Your gratitude list can be long!

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About the Author:

Kim Shea is a retirement coach, and runs a mental health practice serving older adults. She has an MAS in Leadership of Healthcare Organizations.
Kim has been interested in the mental health of older adults since she was a caregiver for an older friend who died in his mid-fifties. Kim observed how important it was to feel purposeful right up to the end of life. She further worked with older people in a skilled nursing setting who also needed to feel that they still matter and are needed.