Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 422(173) Deciding to be Happy

Seems like an easy choice: deciding to be happy. I can’t imagine too many people would choose to be unhappy. This is probably one of the more universal claims that can be made about human beings. And why do we want to be happy? Because it feels good; not a real complicated question or answer.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

“I Like Being Old”, is the title of a book I recently came across. It is written by k. Eileen Allen. She is a 90 year old woman who is blind. She says she likes being old and I believe her. How can that be you might ask? The common assumption is that youth is wonderful and old age is a dispiriting time. Not for her.

Eileen Allen has a rich, full voice. She had been a university professor and sounds like one. I heard her being interviewed about her new book and her thoughts on being old. She relates this story of the pursuit of happiness. At midlife she got a job offer that seemed just right.  Her husband had just retired and she was free to move and work just about anywhere.  This perfect job was a long way from the mountains and salt water near Seattle. It was in Kansas. She was not well received. She was not happy. She was miserable. She thought of giving up on her dream job and moving back to the coast. No one liked her. She felt isolated and abandoned. definitely unhappy.

One noon hour she took her lunch and walked to the highest point on campus; probably the pitchers mound. She started to mull over her plight. She recalled a conversation she had had with a doctor many years previously.  After inquiring into her state of happiness the doctor said, “No one can make you happy. That is something everyone has to do for themselves. Only you can make you happy”.

She sat there on that little rise in the ground and thought about what she could do to make herself happy. She lit on an idea: she would pretend to be happy. She would smile at everyone she met. She would make some inane comment about the weather, the team, the pretty clothing, etc.

I try to imagine her getting up from her lunch, taking a deep breath, squaring her shoulders and heading back to her office. Smiling at the first person she met and saying, “Hi, how are you today?”

Within two days the whole world had turned. She was receiving lots of smiles back. People were laughing and talking with her. She was soon being invited to coffee or lunch. The next 14 years were very exciting and some of the happiest of her life.

Now here is an idea worthy consideration. If that is one road to happiness then it seems like we might want to use. I liked her idea. It maked sense. I can just imagine how this would be so effective. People respond to smiles and laughter. It makes everyone feel better and we all like that.

Next time I fall into a funk and need a pick-me-up I’m going to try it. Just past a smile on my face and go for a walk. Meet some people, talk about the weather, comment on their dog, or tell some kind of a stupid joke and see if my luck can change. If it worked for her it might work for me.

You might want to check out her book. It is titled, "I Like Being Old, A Guide to Making the Most of Aging" by K. Eileen Allen; Copyright in 2009. This is a small self publishing type of book. You can find it at or perhaps your local bookstore can order it for you. It is well done, insightful, filled with humor and concrete examples of ways our attitude can set the stage for own happiness.  

A few years have passed since I first posted this podcast concerning Eileen Allen's book. After reading this book I wrote to Eileen telling her how much I enjoyed it and that I have this podcast about retirement. And that I published a podcast about her book.

She called me. She lives in Seattle which is only about 90  miles from my home. We arranged to take her to lunch. My wife and I picked her up around noon. I will never forget our arrival. After a call from the lobby of her retirement center we took the elevator to the 4th floor. When the door open this nattily dressed woman stood looking in. She was using a gorgeous cane and had  a most friendly smile on her face.

She took us in to look at her room and talked of her daily walks around Green Lake. Then we went just a short distance to lunch. "Would you mind if I had a glass of wine" she asked as we prepared to order.

The lunch and conversation never slowed. She even recited a few poems for us. It seems that as her eyesight has degenerated reading became nearly impossible. She has substituted memorizing and reciting poetry. What a treat. She leaned forward with clasp hand folded in front of her on the table and treated us to a very special experience.

This is Retirement Talk.

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