Recently I tuned in to CBC radio and listened to a program called Ideas. I like this program. It usually presents me with information that causes me to see life in a different way and this time was no exception.
They were talking about a research project where the brains of younger people and older people were examined while the each group experienced similar circumstances.
One part of the study involved having the subjects play a game with monetary stakes. Researchers observed that the brains of individuals who were winning looked similar regardless of their age, but when it appeared they were losing, the brain waves of the younger people indicated stress whereas the brain waves of the older people remained stable. Somehow, they also measured the brain activity in subjects who were experiencing real loss and found that they were similar regardless of the demographic.
Researchers found that the older group was less likely to feel stress over possible negative outcomes.
Here’s the conclusion they drew: When we’re young, hopefully before we’ve lived through any measure of real tragedy in our lives, we don’t understand how we would cope if we were faced with it. We’re afraid. By the time we are older, after we’ve experienced our share of sorrow we know we’re strong enough to withstand grief, loss, and hardship. As mature adults we know grief will come–it’s a part of life–but we don’t spend as much time fretting about it. We accept the fact that sorrow is inevitable, we grieve when it comes, and learn to appreciate the good times.
As the time we have left in our life gets shorter we experience more gratitude for those things we already have and our attitude of appreciation takes precedence over concern for things that may or may not happen.
I’ve had my share of sleepless nights due to worry, sometimes about situations in life that warranted concern, but more than a few times due to my own projecting “what if” outcomes. For the most part, I’ve adopted a come-what-may, trust-in-God, stance but I can still get caught up in a cycle of worry. It happened recently, in fact.
It seems different now, though.
I find myself looking for something positive in the what-if imaginings. I pray, make lists, plans, and take concrete steps to avoid imagined calamity, adjust my course if necessary, and I remember the past.
I remember prior times of God’s faithfulness in my life.
I recall times of feeling like I was being overcome with waves of grief and that I couldn’t possibly continue to feel that sort of pain and remain alive. But I did.
I remember laying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, overtaken with worry about something that might happen. But it didn’t.
And I remember walking blissfully through my life and being blindsided by some tragedy that changed everything in a moment. And I survived.
So maybe the researchers are on to something after all. Perhaps this resilience is yet another benefit of growing older. I’m willing to consider that possibility. How about you?