Feeling Resentful Leads to Accelerated Aging — and What You Can Do About It

Tis the Season to be Thankful – at least in Canada! Our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday is next Monday, October 11th. This week people are decorating their front porches with bright orange pumpkins, wreaths of corn and other decorations like haystacks and scarecrows. Shopping for the turkey and baking pumpkin pies will also form part of the week’s rituals for many. Some this Fall will even be fortunate enough to be able to spend this holiday with family and close friends, while still of course practising safe social distancing. If the weather is clement, as it often is at Thanksgiving, the festivities will be held out of doors.

But thanks-giving should not just be something we celebrate once a year. Indeed, those who give thanks all year long are known to be healthier and happier. Kerry Howells has been researching gratitude for the past 25 years. Lately, however, her research on gratitude has taken a different direction. There is all kinds of research on the life-enhancing qualities of practising gratitude on a regular basis. But one of the questions she regularly gets from audiences is: “, “OK, I get gratitude, but how can I be grateful when I feel so resentful?”

It’s a good question, for who among us has not felt resentful, not once but many times in life? As Howells notes, we may feel resentful because one sibling seems to be favoured over another. Or the neighbour’s dog barks incessantly, keeping us awake at night. Or maybe a promotion goes to a colleague who does not seem nearly as qualified or as worthy as we are. What about the partner who does not do his or her share of the household chores? You fill in the blanks. We’ve all got something in our life about which we feel resentful.

Howells says that resentment is known as the “emotion of justice”. If we give up being resentful it may seem as though we are letting the other person off the hook.

In my experience, the opposite is true. When I am resentful toward another person it is I who usually suffer. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die! Resentment can be a kind of prison for the one who experiences this debilitating emotion.

In her recently released book, Untangling You: How Can I Be Grateful When I Feel So Resentful?, Howells notes: “The meaning of the word resentment comes from the Old French word resentir, which means ‘the re-experiencing of a strong feeling.’ Two distinguishing features of resentment are that it causes us to ruminate—that is, to go over and over the situation in our minds—and that it lingers over time. We are often initially so shocked by what has happened to us that the disappointment, frustration, or anger we feel becomes lodged and it’s difficult to move on.”

The problem with resentment is that it leads to compromised health conditions. Many who experience resentment, especially if they are constantly ruminating about it, have trouble sleeping, endure changes in cardiovascular activity and stress-related hormones, and even suffer from depression.

And here is something we Boomers in particular need to note: those of us who give in to feelings of resentment and unforgiveness often undergo an acceleration of the aging process that leads to a variety of diseases, such as increased instances of heart disease and cancer.

But if we can learn to harness the practice of gratitude, Howells says that we will find in it an amazing resource for staving off all the negative feelings associated with resentment. How to do this is something she explores in more detail in her book.

For now, I want to draw your attention to one of the talks that Rabbi Richard Address will be giving at Siloam on Saturday, November 13th on Jacob and Joseph. In this presentation Rabbi Address will discuss the question of reconciliation. With whom do we need to be reconciled with and how can we find and practise forgiveness in the second half of life? It is a theme we all need to re-visit many times in our lives, but it becomes even more crucial as we age.

This is why I hope you will join me for “Our Long and Winding Road: Seeking our Path in the Longevity Revolution” with Rabbi Richard Address.  There are still a few places left, but register soon because spaces are limited! Please note that for your safety we are requiring all participants to show proof of double vaccination and I.D. – or proof of medical exemption. A great day full of fascinating and helpful messages, a delicious lunch and snacks, and an excellent book room for you to peruse! I hope to see you there!

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