Let's Get an Attitude of Gratitude

By: Pat Bryson
By: Pat Bryson

When I came to Harlan there were a few things that surprised me. One of these things was seeing grandmothers (real grandmothers with gray or white hair) smoking cigarettes. I had never seen that before.

When I came to Harlan there were a few things that surprised me. One of these things was seeing grandmothers (real grandmothers with gray or white hair) smoking cigarettes.  I had never seen that before.  I had seen snuff dipped by the older ladies on their Tennessee porches, but in the late 1960’s I had never seen a grandmotherly person with a cigarette (and certainly not a pipe) between her lips.

The second surprise had to do with grandmothers also; I’m not sure how to say this, but I had never known of a person in her 30’s or early 40’s who was a grandmother. I’m not saying there weren’t any; there must have been, but all the grandmothers that I had known before coming to Harlan all looked like grandmothers! And there was an attitude here that surprised me; many people at age 40 acted old and acted like they felt old.  I couldn’t figure that out.  The generations in my family before me lived to be an old age (three of my four grandparents died in their nineties), and because of the Great Depression my parents’generation married late and started their families late, so since my mother was 36 when I was born and my grandmother and aunt had babies in their late 40’s, I just couldn’t understand people feeling old at 40.  I truly believed the adage that “life begins at 40.” I was flabbergasted to hear young men here in their 20’s call their wives “the old woman” and they, in turn, call him “my old man”.

Our surroundings and culture mold us in ways that we don’t usually even think about, and we pick up some traits and attitudes that need looking at and tweaking along life’s way.  The question arises in my mind, “Can we change our attitudes? Can a change of attitude really change our behavior, our feelings about life, and our outlook on life?
I think the answer is, “Yes, yes, and yes.”

I really believe that if I think that I am old or sick or have experienced all that life has to offer that I will live in a different way from the person who has the attitude of thinking new thoughts and thinks that life is just beginning.  I believe that this is important because our body listens to what we tell it. Just last week-end, we attended two performances of the wonderful Higher Ground production in Cumberland, and we were thrilled by its message and excellence.  There were actors of every age, including men and women near or beyond age 80, dancing and singing and inspiring all of us with their talent, enthusiasm and energy. As I age, I am amazed at how many new things there are to learn and experience. Gayle Lawson, before her death, was working hard well into her 90’s helping to improve things in Harlan County.

Attitude………when you get right down to it, attitude is the thing that makes the difference in people, because it is our attitude that determines whether we view the world through eyes of fear or eyes of belief. Fear paralyzes creativity and causes us to build boxes around our thoughts and lives and robs us of our positive thoughts little by little.  I once heard a statement that I liked, made by an older person still engaged in meaningful activities. He said, “I’d rather wear out than rust out.”  That sounds like a meaningful philosophy of life. A fearful person rarely takes chances, and since life is a series of decisions involving taking chances; fear robs us of meaningful life. 

When a person believes in himself and in a Power beyond himself and is willing to really live life, he is an energy giver rather than an energy taker.  He thinks new thoughts, reaches out to others, takes chances, feels positive about others, and is a joy to be around.  That person invents, makes improvements, and plants trees for the next generation to enjoy.  I read last week that in 1899 the U.S. Patent Office almost closed because the executive in charge of that office said, “Everything that can be invented already has been.” {Although Charles H. Duell is credited with that statement; it is more likely that it is legend that this exact statement was made.} I could laugh about how ridiculous that statement is if I didn’t see people occasionally who live as though they believe it.  If we buy into that philosophy about our lives, we stop learning, and we stop dreaming.  How sad!

There are different stages and seasons in our lives; to accept that brings contentment to our lives.  If we fail to recognize aging and change, that can bring misery.  Do you know some who are trying to prove to “somebody” that they can do at 50 the same physical things they enjoyed at 20?  Now, that is a way to stay upset!  The happy people are those who understand change and limitations, realize that each season of life has pluses and minuses and adapt to those things that are appropriate.  We can’t trick death; aging is inevitable, and those who adapt to the truth of that fact can live life to its fullest. 

I hear mothers say sometimes about their children, “She/he needs an attitude adjustment.”
I say that I think we all do; we all need to check our attitudes daily to see if we are slipping into attitudes that have been handed down to us (probably subconsciously) that are taking away joy and meaning to our lives.  Negative thoughts, grumbling, thoughts of giving up or “checking out” rob us and those around us.  You don’t have to buy into just any thought that hits your mind. Let’s use a gratitude filter to see if we can adjust the important attitude area of our lives. Let’s try a dose of gratitude to cure that attitude! (You can contact Pat Bryson at


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