Camp for a Week, Friends for Life!

Neuroscience, Aging and Joyful Living

I think Jimmy Buffet has the right idea when it comes to living in terms of being happy.  His song An Attitude of Gratitude repeatedly talks about how being grateful changes our perception and outlook on life.  Two verses are “An attitude of gratitude, Hooray for what’s okay, Say thank you with emphatitude, And it’s a brand new day. An attitude of gratitude, When push has come to shove, Eliminates combatitude, And changes fear to love.” I am not sure where he developed some of his philosophies on life, but current research is showing some of the truths found in his lyrics and how it plays a key role in being happy as we age.

Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, was posed the question by his parents on what they should be doing to live a happy life as they aged and if there were limitations based on neuroscience and aging that might be a factor or hindrance to their efforts. Not finding any research on the topic, he conducted his own and published a book last month called Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives. Levitin’s findings highlight some of the myths of aging and make some surprising discoveries on how we live and can shape our lives to a more positive, joyful existence.

As we age, neurochemicals make changes in our brains.  These changes alter how we remember, and they also help us focus on more positive memories.  Perhaps this is a reason why so many look to the past as the “Good Old Days.”  In fact, what is happening is a combination of things.  With age, perceptions and priorities change.  Older adults tend to be more accepting of differences, more grateful for what they have, and strive for healthy relationships. The happiest age was not reported in the adolescence or young adult years but age 82.  Much of this revolves around gratitude and trying new things. An attitude of gratitude relieves, stress, improves mood, and boosts mental and physical conditions.

Towards the end of Paul’s life in the Bible, he is writing a letter to Philippi from his jail cell and responds to if he needed anything or wanted to be remembered in any certain way, but the end speaks volumes to his faith.  I have included an excerpt found in Philippians 4:8-13 from The Message Bible.

8 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  9 Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.  10 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess – happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it.  11 Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. 12 I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. 13 Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

How did Paul find this Divine peace and contentment? What did he do to allow God to touch him in such a personal and humble way?  What barriers prevent us from finding that Divine peace?  Levitin’s argument would be to stop striving for what you do not have.  He would not argue that we sit around like Paul (though he did not have another option), but that we should engage our curiosity and try new things, even if they are a bit daunting.  This sense of adventure and trying new things should be fostered at young ages so that it becomes a part of who we are and helps us become more resilient to the world around us and more confident in our own abilities.

Camps are great in teaching young people gratitude and self-discovery.  The long term effects of attending summer camp are continuing to be studied. In addition to a fun week, genuine friendships, and tons of laughter, camps offer opportunities to develop social intelligence, resiliency to emotional challenges, and a myriad of 21st-century skills that fortune 500 companies realize that are not being taught in schools and universities. I believe that camps are a positive force in shaping our culture and society as a whole and equipping people with skills to challenge unhealthy behaviors and pitfalls that lead to stress, anxiety, anger, and tense relationships.  Jimmy Buffet again offers a paradigm shift in his song Margaritaville when he realizes that he cannot blame others and that he has to take responsibility for his own life.  Teaching our children and youth that they have agency and are ultimately responsible for their happiness and well-being at an early age, allows them to develop the coping mechanisms and skills as they mature. 

Slumber Falls Camp and the South Central Conference are committed to getting every child a camp experience because we recognize the impact that it has on a young person’s life trajectory.  If there are challenges in getting your kids or another child to camp, please contact the camp office so that we can find a way to get them here so as they age, hopefully, the week of investment in a child or youth will pay off in their gratitude, happiness, and divine peace within them for decades. Be happy with the relationships that you have and practice gratitude, and I hope our paths cross soon.

Peace, Jeremy