In a recent post, Bucket lists, quests, and meaning in life, I explored the theory that there is more happiness in the pursuit of a personal goal or quest than in the accomplishment itself. Chris Guillebeau described this convincingly and entertainingly in his book, The Happiness of Pursuit. I had a number of comments, both on the blog and on Facebook, but one email response really stood out. This response came from a long-time friend who also happens to be the dean of libraries at my university, the very library where I found the books that inspired the post. Lesley connected the happiness of pursuit with making the choice to be happy.
She shared with me that as she read my thoughts about the happiness of pursuit, she was reminded of her mother and how she had lived her life by choosing to be happy. Having known her mother very well, her words resonated strongly. I can only hope that everyone knows someone like her mother. To use Lesley’s own words:
“I often reflect on the choices she made about happiness. I don’t think her outlook was as much about the pursuit of a quest or bucket list (although she certain crossed lots of grand things off her list!) but about the day-to-day choices in life. I remember saying at her funeral that she chose to be happy. I say that with respect, knowing that many people can’t make that choice and would love to be happy. What it seems to me that mum did, though, was to actively choose to do the things that made her happy and thereby gave those who loved her the gift of her being happy. This may only make sense to those who knew her very well, but I think it’s valid. She also chose to see things as positively as possible. While I think she was blessed with a positive outlook, I do believe that she chose to live her life this way as well. With tears in my eyes I’m sharing what I said at her funeral on her happiness:
It was during her last day at home that she and I had a fun and wide-ranging conversation – about life and happiness and the nature of luck. We continued to talk, with her returning to her theme of appreciation and having lived such a full and happy life. I pointed out that her wonderful life hadn’t just happened – she had chosen to make it so. She agreed – saying, “well yes, sure, we could have chosen to be miserable.”
My mum never chose to be miserable, to be angry, or to be negative. She kept her eye on what was best.
So what did she choose?
Well, here are a few examples from the life I shared with my mum and learned from, and will try to live up to:
She chose to see what was best in everyone. She didn’t think we were all perfect, she just focused on the best parts. She found people interesting, talked to people about themselves, and never dismissed anyone because of their shortcomings. She believed in people.
She went outside every day. It made her happy to get fresh air, so she did it.
She loved her sisters and brother, arranging to see them, plan adventures, and got to know and have relationships with many nieces and nephews.
She showed up. At lots and lots of things. I would sometimes suggest that an invitation didn’t mean you HAD to go, but mum liked to show up – to be there – to be engaged.
She committed to her friends and participated. Years and years of tennis games with Carol and Norah, always bridge including the annual sleep-over in St. Andrew’s, and lots of driving to make sure everyone was included. She sang in a choir her whole life, and enjoyed the sociability, and the challenge of interesting music.
She considered kindness to be a verb. She did kind and thoughtful things, and was rewarded for it with satisfaction and love and respect.
She didn’t postpone things worth doing.
She treasured my dad and their marriage, and gave my brothers and me the gift of growing up within a truly amazing partnership of 50 years.
I’ve been giving some thought to how she did it. And perhaps it’s pretty simple. She always believed “that the sun was trying to get out”. No matter how dark, or bleak, or foggy the day, mum was always pretty sure that the sun wanted to shine.”
Jane (aka Robby Robin) again: I hope you can see why I thought these sentiments were important to share. It’s not just a warm and moving tribute to a wonderful woman, it’s also excellent advice for all of us to follow. Thank you, Lesley, for agreeing to let me share your moving words about one of the very best, your mother.
I wrote a blog post to commemorate Lesley’s mum when she died five years ago. You can find it here at Dealing with loss, it never gets any easier. RIP again, Flora. You are always in our hearts.
Photo credit: patkatz.com