I had the chance to talk to my Poppy today.
It’s very rare that we actually spend a good 30 minutes on the phone together, but it happened today. During the discussion he said something to me that was so simple and profound that I thought it merited repeating here, because I wanted to keep it so that I don’t ever forget it.
He told me, sadly, and in a voice much more shaky than I have ever heard from him, that most people die unhappy, mourning the changes they could not make to the world. And that the harder you fight to change everything around you, the more the world will fight back against you, and suck the life and the happiness right out of you.
He reminded me that one person, alone, only has so much energy to give, and can only effect so much change. He told me that he’s seen too many truly wonderful people get the wind taken right out of them fighting against things that simply cannot be affected by their anger and rage, no matter how righteous their indignation may be, and instead, he watched them become consumed by it – ultimately becoming the victim of their own upset.
And then came the moment that was ultimately important to me in teaching me the lesson that I share with you now. He let me know that to tell me all of this hurt him greatly because it forced him to mourn the things about the world and in life that he could not change, much as he wishes that he could — and he assured me, by the age of 93, it was quite a bit more than I would imagine.
I realized at that moment, what he was trying to tell me – the best, and only way to live a good life.
To live happily, you must focus most of your efforts on doing the things that make you cheerful and happy and on encouraging others to do the same.
You must focus on making a positive difference by affecting things you know you can change, and forget about things you personally cannot change (or do your best to make fun of them or cope with them as best you can).
Everything else is noise. Ambiance. Window dressing.
I am very lucky to have my Poppy. He’s lived through a lot. Seen a lot of different times and a lot of different attitudes in this country. Getting his perspective, which is a world and a half away from mine at times, grounds me in a way that I wish my whole generation could have.
To realize that our grandparents grew up during an alcohol prohibition, and when women “knew their place” and kids were to be seen and not heard, and when black people were “coloreds,” and none of what I just said was offensive — it’s hard for me to wrap my head around. To say “It was a different time, and this was a different country,” is to understate so grossly, it’s laughable.
Right now, I’m fighting the good fight within myself to find out what happiness means to me. It’s something different for everybody. I know it means getting to know my family and really being present as a good friend for the people who I love. (I was in law school and then so sick w/ seizures that I’ve been a non-present friend for a long time.)
That’s step one.
I honestly believe that by taking the time to be a happier, healthier me that I give others permission to do the same, and even that one positive change, passed along, can help improve the world.
If every day, you do one thing to add happiness or whimsy to your world or to someone else’s, the world will be a kinder place.