I have a theory that, as we age, we distill down to our essence. So, if you’re a miserable person who just fakes being okay, as you get older, you’ll be less willing or able to fake being okay and your misery will come out.

One of the main reasons I’ve been trying so hard to get my shit together is that I want to be happy at my core. I want, when life has knocked all the extraneous shit off me, for me to be someone I can live with. Want to live with.

3 thoughts on “Happiness

  1. The habits of mind can really take over in old age, like you’re saying. My father let hate and bigotry stew in his head all his life, and now he has a hard time not existing in a state of it constantly almost boiling over.

    But his mother was a very happy old lady when she was old. The lifelong habits of being delighted with people — welcoming anyone she saw and making a point of finding some reason to be delighted to see that particular individual, no matter who they were — meant that this is how I remember her and that even nursing home life was cheerful and a friendly place full of sunshine for her.

    A couple of her sisters were nuns, and while less exuberant in old age, they also basked in the lifelong habits of making the choice to look with kindness on whatever person was in front of them and of looking for even small ways to be of service to others. Love and kindness seemed to surround them, because of a lifetime of giving it out. I’ve seen quite a few nuns deal with extreme old age by spending what time and strength they do have left coming up with constant small acts of service for those around them, and they seem so happy. They also tend to live longer.

  2. Now I’m trying to think of other social habits that Grandma had that paid off late in life. She loved to talk and sometimes got a bit lonely out on the farm, so one of her habits was feeding itinerants. Apparently she had some regulars who wanted to swap some casual labor for a home-cooked meal and who were of the sort who were very shy of having to talk to people. She called them “good listeners”, and they could count on a hearty welcome, a hearty meal, and a flood of chat about all the local news, to which they were not expected to reply if they didn’t feel like it. And they could depend on being thanked for their visit in terms that they were very kind and gallant gentlemen to listen so readily and help a lady with some chores.

    I’ve seen her talk to some of those old guys that way, and seen their eyes light up, because all of a sudden they were not the backward sad sacks who couldn’t handle people, but gallant gentlemen paying elegant service to a most grateful lady.

    She was one of those local oral historian ladies who know everyone’s lineage and family stories. She was a big hit in the nursing home, because she could visit other patients and tell them their own stories when their memories were struggling.

    And she could be depended upon to know and talk about something praiseworthy and admirable about any person she’d ever met. No wonder she was so popular in old age.

  3. A friend of mine works with Alzheimer’s patients. In one of the nursing homes where she has a client, there’s a British lady with dementia. She gets confused, of course, because that is part of the disease, and then stressed and anxious because she is confused about what is going on. But being British, for her entire life, “a nice cup of tea” has been something that always helps in any situation, because, well, British. So when she’s anxious or confused, she asks for “a nice cup of tea”. And she’s not picky — pretty much any warmish but not too hot liquid will do, and she will settle down and feel soothed and feel like she at least knows what’s going on with *something*.

    She’s not my friend’s patient, but my friend says she’ll still make the lady a cup of tea when she asks, because the regular staff often won’t, and it’s such an easy fix to make this lady’s anxiety go away for a little while.

    Now I get why so many Brits insist that a cup of tea always helps — if you train yourself your whole life to associate it with calming and soothing, then it does become this thing that can be counted on to help you feel calm and soothed.

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