An Attitude of Gratitude: Older Japanese in the Hopeful Present
Keywords:gratitude, quiet hope, aging, Japan, ends of life, meaning
In this article I explore ideas of the good and meaningful life in older age, based on ethnographic research with older Japanese in the city of Osaka. Some of my interlocutors and friends in the field spoke about the approaching end of their life. When speaking about the time remaining, many expressed their sense that the future ‘will somehow turn out [all right]’ (nantonaku). This statement of quiet hope acknowledged change and encapsulated a desire to support others; it also shifted emphasis away from the future. This is not to say that the experience was for my interlocutors primarily marked by an orientation towards the past: by reminiscing and recollection. Inhabiting the moment was equally important. While reminiscing and narrating past events clearly relate to meaning-making, then, what is the role of dwelling in the moment for maintaining a meaningful existence? I will argue that dwelling in the moment allows for the cultivation of an attitude of gratitude, which lends meaning to a life. This attitude of gratitude binds together both reflection on the past and attention to the present moment in its fullness. It also, I suggest, opens up space for a particular kind of hope, grounded in the moment. Thus, the sense of the good and meaningful life that my older friends conveyed encapsulates an attitude of gratitude as a way of inhabiting the present, rather than dwelling in the past or leaping towards the future.
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