Getting to the Gratitude Phase

Grateful for flowers. Picture by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Grateful for flowers. Picture by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I bet we could all guess the ages of the two women described by guest blogger Jesse Lynn Stoner in her post “6 Guidelines to Creating the Vision for the Life You Want” over on Jann Freed Ph.D’s. blog. There is Michelle—a woman disappointed in her professional career, which she deems “not as successful” as the one she envisioned. And Sarah, who feels unfulfilled because she hasn’t found the right man for a partner and hasn’t had children.

At what age would you place these two women? I’d guess them to be in their mid to late 30s.

Can you relate? Did you have anxiety about your life’s trajectory at about that age?

For many of us, maybe even most of us, we get to that window of life and look backward and forward with a newfound anxiety. We’ve had enough life experience that we come to think about all we expected, and compare our lives with our peers.

If I were to ask my children’s generation if they’ve had a similar experience of their 30s, it might be different. The “target ages” for some of these milestones have changed for their generation. They have children later and view career through a different standard. But, for the sake of the life phase theory, the trends are similar.

The phases of transitions go something like this:

The 20s:

Trying to figure it out, living in the present, exercising hutzpah and feeling like a fraud as to who you are at times, but faking it until you eventually make it. Emotions are heightened about everything. 

The 30s:

Still trying to figure it out, and feeling like there is time until a lever switches and you become introspective and anxious. The inner realizations of self are shifting to a more mature dialogue a little less panicked about personal strengths and weaknesses.

The 40s:              

Still have not figured it out, because that never ends, but the paths you’ve chosen (or feel you’ve wandered into) are the ones you’re living. There’s an ebb and flow of mellow acceptance of self that mingles with self-judging, and of course judging others. You still see the opportunity for change because there is time ahead of you.

The 50s:              

Getting real and hopefully gentle with that sense of self. The realization that time is limited and precious. Stop slaying yourself for what you’ve not done or been, and hone-in on what you can do. Thinking in shorter-term goals and what is important now. Emotional ups and downs are exhausting, so you’ve moved on to gratitude for what “is” and assessed what you know to be true.

The 60s and Beyond:     

Feel you’re fully formed and hopefully gentler with yourself and others. The now is more important. Purpose and relationships remain key.


I sense that these phases are somewhat universal, but may vary based on gender, generation, and culture of origin. However, it is the sense of gratitude I wish could be expanded across all of them.

As I reflect, I don’t recall that thinking in terms of gratitude was taught at all when I grew up. And while raising our children, I don’t recall that we focused on it often. There may have been the compare and contrast perspective: that “Consider the starving children in China and eat the food on your plate,” kind of thing. However, in demonstrating the practice of gratitude, I think we just accepted the good of our life as a matter of fact, and assumed our children wouldn’t or couldn’t fathom the good of their life at the time.

The human thing is to compare and contrast our life to the lives of others. We do a kind of driveby of someone’s misfortune and think, “Boy, I’m lucky that’s not happening to me.” Then we feel guilty a bit and, the thought doesn’t garner a sense of true gratitude but rather the idea that life is more a great deal of chance where we have few choices and less control.

Faith-based teachings, based on my limited experience, preach the concept of gratitude, but often it seems based on favoritism of one’s faith and actions under the umbrella of religious tenants—so, not a pure assessment within, and not being grateful for gratitude’s sake.

As we age, if we’ve garnered wisdom, we recognize our humanity and the human experience in general. We judge ourselves and others from that perspective. We recognize we can’t change the past, but so long as we’re alive, we can be the person we want to be here and now.

Regrets—we’ve had a few—but we assess and realize there are many things to in our life for which to be grateful. And feeling grateful feels sooooo much better! Why couldn’t we have been more grateful when we were younger?

In Stoner’s post, she offers insightful tips on how these two women can reexamine their vision of life and measure it against a truer sense of their values and expectations. It’s not that they shouldn’t reach and aspire to a vision. They just need to make certain it is their true vision and not one they embraced as expected. That is great and useful. I would add that finding the points of life to be grateful for is also handy and it would be helpful to incorporate into every phase of our life.

I’m starting early with my granddaughter. The other day she was sad and disappointed about an event that was canceled. Of course, at 5, immediate gratification isn’t fast enough, but I considered it an opportunity to introduce the concept of gratitude. I acknowledged her disappointment as a reasonable feeling but then asked her if she could name a thing or two she was grateful for at the moment. She didn’t readily pick up the invitation, however it did give her pause. My goal for her…and me…is to consider gratitude far more often.

Are you in your grateful phase? I’m grateful you’ve read this post. Please pass it on if you think it can awaken others gratitude.


Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.


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