In a general sense, life looks the same for all of us: stuff happens to us. We learn from that stuff, sometimes. We get older.
Ideally, we have a sense that there’s some progression to our lives. Learning from our past experiences helps us live our lives more effectively as we get older, and eventually helps us accept the challenges that aging brings.
Indeed, there’s a new study out that provides some evidence for a link between learning from our life experiences and adjusting to the process of aging.
In the study, researchers asked asked 202 adults over the age of 65 to engage in one of two activities: either to reflect on “important lessons life had taught them” or, more prosaically, to contemplate their daily morning routines.
Using this setup, the researchers showed some immediate benefits to the relatively simple exercise of reflecting on life lessons. The participants who performed this task subsequently reported higher feelings of gratitude, self-esteem and hope, as well as more positive attitudes toward aging overall.
Next, the researchers asked why reflecting on takeaways from life experiences apparently had these benefits, and they answered that question the way psychology researchers tend to answer most questions: with statistics.
Specifically, they found statistical evidence that thinking about life lessons made people more prone to savor their experiences, which in turn increased their feelings of gratitude. Those increased feelings of gratitude then cascaded into feelings of hope, greater satisfaction with life, and acceptance of aging as a positive part of life.
That explanation is somewhat speculative because, as is often the case with statistical models, there are some ambiguities about cause-and-effect.
But the broader point is promising: a practice of reflecting on lessons learned in life might give rise to psychological benefits in the form of increased gratitude, an ability to savor experiences, and a more positive view of what it means to age.