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Study: Savouring the Little Things


But now I catch the tone of leaves.
No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.
                               – Clive James, Sentenced to Life

What gives life meaning in old age? Rural Swedes say: family, seeing oneself as a link between generations, enjoying nature and trusting in God.

According to researchers, the importance of understanding rural seniors' perspectives can't be overstated. "The sense of meaning in life among the oldest old has implications for their quality of life, mental well-being and physical health," said Elisabeth Jonsén, the study's lead author, and associate professor in the department of nursing at Umeå University in Umeå, Sweden

The research team published their findings in the September 2015 issue of the International Journal of Older People Nursing.

Home and family

The participants, aged 85 to 95, expressed satisfaction in their ability to create a home for themselves and their family. Some had built their houses with their own hands and were still enjoying it.

The women talked about sewing, weaving, spinning and crocheting their clothes as well as curtains and other items for the home. They also worked in the cowshed.

Men talked about doing carpentry, forestry work and casual labour. They picked wild blueberries, raspberries and cloudberries. They grew vegetables and potatoes, and they hunted and fished: "Oh yes, we had lots of fish," one man said. "There were plenty in the river."

Generational link

In a similar vein, these old persons took satisfaction in transferring to the next generation what earlier generations had left to them, especially the family home. "Our homestead was my wife's parents' home; now our daughter owns it and lives there," one man said.

The participants valued family ties. Children and grandchildren represented hope for the future and the ability to be able to see the self as a link between generations. They talked about experiencing a sense of loss when the younger generation did not want to take over the family legacy, the family farm, for example.

Beyond family, participants stressed the importance of taking care of old friends and making new ones. As one woman remarked, "Old friends from past times turning up to visit, I really appreciate that."

Another participant found new friends when she moved into a care facility: "It was a wonderful experience to come here [to residential care], I felt so welcomed," she said.


The study found that participants derived intense joy from nature. A sunny day, birds or a rainbow evoked a sense of deep pleasure and delight. Research has shown that contact with nature plays a vital role in our psychological well-being. "I have been a nature lover, you know, all my life and even in the old days," one woman remarked.

Trust in God

The participants emphasized the role of faith in their lives. They told researchers that their faith had been a source of strength throughout their lives, offering comfort in times of trouble and uncertainty.

As they near the end of their journey, they are content to leave their past, present and future in God's hands and eager to savour the little things in life.