Feeling Grateful for Getting Older

I recently celebrated my 58th birthday. I don’t share this news with hopes for either benevolent wishes or reassurances that 58 is really not that old. I am good with all that. I am sharing this because it truly makes me happy to get to be alive yet another year—and I finally figured out the secret: growing a bit older every day seems to be the only way to continue to be alive. This seems an insight worthy of note.

We all fall prey to messages that aging is something we are supposed to dread or incessantly lament; complaining about it is a surefire way to “belong” in our culture. Without a doubt, parts of my body that used to be perky are now more pendulous, facial features are dwarfed next to the lines that surround them, and organs and joints I never even knew I had because they were once quiet, now creak, ache, and clamor for attention all hours of the day. I definitely do not have the physical or mental energy I used to have; Friday night plans usually end early or get canceled, my concepts of productivity have downsized, and, increasingly, I cannot remember simple, self-assigned tasks from one room to the next. But, weighed against not getting older, these all seem like very small prices to pay. Aging is surely better than the alternative.

As far as I can remember, when I came into this world, no one promised me a certain number of days, months, or years to live. I am no more entitled to a far-reaching lifespan than anyone else on this planet. No amount of attachment to nuanced goals or well-constructed plans for the future assures me longevity. Neither does eating gluten free, taking 10 supplements every morning, or meditating—but I do it all anyway for the sake of daily well-being. Counter to what some say, I do not believe that simply wanting to be alive is enough to keep me alive, and that illness and death only come to those who “fail” at wanting life badly enough or making the “right” decisions. I know too many truly extraordinary people who have died to buy into these kinds of harmful concepts.

Having a birthday offers me the welcome reminder that it is nothing short of a total miracle to be alive yet another year. I could call it any number of things, but with the sheer volume of mind-blowing things that can go wrong, and the mind-numbing forces that have to function well and cooperate for any of us to get ourselves up out of bed every day—much less to move from one place to another, love whom we love, and do what we do—it feels appropriate to use the term “miraculous” to describe making it from one entire year to the next. And using the term “miracle” here, I am not referring to “lightning bolts coming down from heaven and having my wish granted” kind of miraculous—I mean that it is so stunningly humbling and awe-inspiring to be alive every day that I cannot help but think that having the opportunity to grow older and to age is a total privilege worth celebrating. Bring on the effects of gravity…and bring on the gratitude.

One of my favorite cards has the quote, “Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most, live the longest.” What a great reminder to celebrate whatever we can, whenever we can, and to take absolutely nothing for granted. Nothing except, maybe, that the longer we live, the more we will age. That everyday miracle seems worth celebrating.

Explore Everyday Gratitude with Kristi Nelson at Kripalu.

This essay was originally published on gratefulness.org.

Kristi Nelson has worked for more than 30 years in leadership and development for organizations and is currently the executive director of A Network for Grateful Living.

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