Episode 740 Deciding to be Happy
This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.
This is a broadcast of a previous episode that always brings a smile. The main focus is on one of those unforgettable characters that we always feel fortunate to meet. She had a valuable experience and has a story for us retired folks, or just anyone.
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 could be made about human beings. And why do we want to be happy? Because it feels good; not a real complicated question or answer.
“I Like Being Old”, is the title of a book I recently came across. It is written by K. Eileen Allen and it is just amazing. 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 sounded 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 mountains and salt water. 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.
Then 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 that just stopped me right there. I mean here is an idea worth pursuing. If that is one road to happiness then it seems like it might be worth making the effort. I like her idea. It makes 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.
I’m going to tuck this little idea in my permanent mental bank and keep it handy. Next time I fall into a funk and need a pick-me-up I’m going to just put 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.
Shortly after I read this book I noticed that Eileen lived in Seattle just an hour or south of me. I called her and the next thing you know I had agreed to take her to lunch. My wife and I drove down to Greenlake and took the elevator up to the floor on which she had an apartment. As the elevator door slid open there stood Eileen dressed to the nines in a beautiful color co-ordinated herringbone suit with vest and a fluffy scarf at her neck and a polished cane in her hand. She showed us her apartment and then we went to lunch. She asked if it was okay if she ordered wine with lunch.
We had a delightful lunch which even included her leaning over the table to get closer to us as she recited a memorable rather long and beautiful poem. What a woman.
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 www.iuniverse.com 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 our own happiness.
This is Retirement Talk.