The Being Granted Time Approach

Some people appreciate life and see every day as an opportunity to help others. Many people embrace this approach as they get older. Some learn it much earlier in life.

Such people are grateful for being granted time to give what they can to others. They feel want to encourage people, pass on knowledge and plant seeds of hope during their remaining time on the planet.

Joanne Gillespie embodied this approach when appearing on Terry Wogan’s television programme in 1988. She was ten at the time and had just finished writing a book about her experience of cancer. She expressed this in the following way

I have only one life and I am going to live it as long as I am here. You have got to face the fact that you have got a tumour or cancer, but it is not just you who have it. There are thousands of other people like us who have it.

Joanne lived for another five years. She and her family created a fund that raised more than £150,000. This was used to buy medical equipment that helped children around the world.

Many elders focus on what they believe is important in life. This often involves giving to others as well as enjoying the moment. Laura Carstensen, an expert on longevity, explains the reasons for this in her book A Long Bright Future.

Laura has given many interviews about the characteristics demonstrated by people as they get older. The following section includes some of her quotes on this theme.

The paradox of aging is that recognising that we won’t live forever changes our perspective on life in positive ways. When people recognize the fragility of life and they don’t have all the time in the world. People see what’s good about life.

Older people count their blessings because they’ve had enough life experience to recognize them. They direct their cognitive resources, like attention and memory, to positive information more than negative.

Mentally sharp older adults show this positivity the most. Under conditions where it really matters, older people process negative information just as well as the positive information.

Increasing positivity with age can be explained by the idea that people’s time horizons grow shorter as they approach their later years. Young adults in their 20s tend to see their futures as limitless, whereas older adults perceive more constraints on time.

This shortened sense of time makes people focus on goals that can be realized in the here and now. These tend to be about emotion, or what feels good, rather than engaging in activities that may pay off much later.

Now it’s really too simplistic to say that older people are “happy.” In our study, they are more positive. But they’re also more likely than younger people to experience mixed emotions – sadness at the same time you experience happiness; you know, that tear in the eye when you’re smiling at a friend. 

And other research has shown that older people seem to engage with sadness more comfortably. They’re more accepting of sadness than younger people are. 

We suspect that this may help to explain why older people are better than younger people at solving hotly charged emotional conflicts and debates. Older people can view injustice with compassion, but not despair. 

As we age, our time horizons grow shorter and our goals change. When we recognize that we don’t have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly. We invest in more emotionally important parts of life, and life gets better, so we’re happier day-to-day. 

Different people choose to take this approach at different ages. Joanne was young when she chose to be grateful and help children. Other people choose to be grateful and give to others later in life.

Let’s return to your own life. If you wish, how can you continue to follow elements of this approach? Looking ahead, what do you want to give to people during the time you are granted on the planet?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

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