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Happiness is a Choice

“I was your age; you were never my age.”

So begins a lesson from one of the elders, whose happiness under difficult circumstances may surprise you. Not positive thinking. True happiness.

As a life coach, I do a lot of reading, researching myriad points of view on a variety of topics. Lately, I’ve been exploring how people describe happiness, and how we create a happy life regardless of our circumstances.

If you read one book this year, please pick up John Leland’s Happiness Is A Choice You Make: Lessons from a year among the oldest old.

No, I don’t know the author personally. According to the bio on the book flap, he is “an award-winning journalist” who spent a year visiting elders (folks n their late 80s and 90s.)

In my view, Leland masterfully introduces us to six individuals, and over the course of reading these pages I feel I’ve come to know each of them…and love them all!

If you think you’ve reached an age where you have it all figured out, if you think you have nothing to learn from older folk, or if you think you understand how older people think and feel — think again.

Each individual Leland describes has had unique challenges throughout their life. They live (at the time of his visits) in different circumstances and with varying levels of health, and each has a lesson to offer the author which he, in turn, shares with us.

Their stories moved me to tears of joy, sadness, recognition. Their wisdom inspires me in unexpected ways. Largely because Leland clearly knows how to weave a tale, also because I miss my own mother, who was 89 when she passed.

The last ten years of her life, my mother lived with me in my home. Dad had died after they had lived 60 years of together (to which Mom jokingly referred as “her first marriage”.) She didn’t do well living alone; she never had. She used to say she went straight from her father’s house to her husband’s house, but I think the truth was she ran them both! By contrast, I had lived alone most of my adult life, even when married (which is an entirely different story.) Putting the two of us together under one roof caused some obvious strains, but the experience also enhanced the relationship.

For the first years she lived here, we had a blast. She was just 79 and, while saddened at the loss of her husband, still had good physical mobility and an interest in life. One of my favorite times was when we both were hired on as extras in a movie that was being made in town. We spent just one day together on the set, but laughed and joked as if we were Hollywood superstars. (Neither of us had any lines, though she did have a close-up!)

As the years progressed, Mom’s health and cognitive abilities declined. As so many other family caregivers, I had no preparation for this phase and learned how to support her simply by trial and error. Some days were good, some not so good. Still, the lessons were there.

If you’ve ever loved or known someone older than yourself, and especially if you love or have loved someone in their 80s or 90s, there is joy awaiting you in the pages of Leland’s book. Again, from the book’s jacket: “Happiness Is a Choice You Make is an enduring collection of lessons that emphasizes, above all, the extraordinary influence we wield over the quality of our lives.”

Whether or not you decide to treat yourself to the pages of Lelands book — my wish for you is that you know, regardless of your age or circumstances, you have the power of choice. When you lose sight of this fact, when you are faced with difficult situations, a life coach can help. Remember, no matter what you do or don’t do, your life will change.

We can choose to be happy.