Lessons in Happiness

Years ago I read a piece in a newspaper, an interview, which had a profound effect on me.  The subject was a woman who, as I recall, was around 80 years old.  A reporter wanted to know how she remained active and kept a positive attitude in her older years.

The woman said that she didn’t do anything remarkable.  She lived her life simply.  She read, played the piano, participated in a weekly bridge game, and kept in touch with friends.  When pressed a bit further, she added that each night she made herself a nice dinner, and set the table with her best china, just for herself.  This made her feel good.

The reporter then asked her, and I’m paraphrasing here, “At your age you’ve been through so much.  Do you still get upset about things, or have you learned the secret to handling life’s difficulties so that nothing bothers you anymore?”  She replied that of course she still got upset when bad things happened.  But, she had a rule that when she felt upset, she gave herself 20 minutes to feel whatever it was; pain, sadness, anger – and then she made herself get up and go do something else.  She said that sometimes she had to do that over and over until the feelings diminished.

This woman taught me three lessons.  The first is that strong social connections are a key component to happiness and well-being.  Second, enjoying life’s simple pleasures leads to lasting happiness (as compared to the temporary happiness boost you get when you buy something you’ve been wanting).  And third, people who manage their emotions by allowing themselves to experience their feelings, but not for so long that the feelings overtake their lives, bounce back to a happier state more quickly than those who don’t.

Perhaps this week you might try one, two, or all three of these approaches.  Is there someone you haven’t called, but want to?  Is there a club or organization you are interested in but have put off exploring?  And, if you usually rush through dinner, you might try having a more leisurely meal just once this week.  Finally, if life throws you an emotional curve ball, don’t duck.  Experience the feelings for 10, 15 or 20 minutes, then go for a walk, call a friend, or run an errand.  Repeat as needed.

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