Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland
One of the fastest growing groups in the United States is those over the age of eighty-five. They're now called "the oldest old". Leland interviewed a number of people before he found the group he would visit with and follow. He picked three men and three women, some still living independently, and some in nursing homes. Although he thought he would observe and write about them for the paper, he found himself learning how to live. With a marriage that had just ended, a mother in that age group, and a health issue, Leland learned how much he had to learn.
Some of the information he uncovered confirmed expectations, while he was surprised by some of his discoveries. While married couples had longevity, he was surprised that widows lived just as long, making new friends and making new lives. But widowers, on average, lived shorter lives than married men. Leland thought the seniors lived longer lives, but at a loss of quality. What he learned is most of the seniors were satisfied with their quality of life, even if they had poor health. He discovered his lessons were "seminars less in aging than in living".
The lessons are worth quoting. "Each elder had different lessons to teach: from Fred, the power of gratitude; from Ping, the choice to be happy; from John, acceptance of death; from Helen, learning to love and be needed; from Jonas, living with purpose; and from Ruth, nourishing the people who matter."
If you read Leland's book, you'll meet all six of those elders, and a few of their family members. You'll encounter their memories, and their present. And, that's most important. Most of the elders are present for their current life. Only one of them dwells on the past because he had a long, contented life and he was ready to move on.
In the end, Leland learned a lesson we should all accept. "The elders' gift to me was a simple one: a reminder that time is both limited and really amazing." There are lessons in this book for all of us, but that sentence does sum up John Leland's Happiness is a Choice You Make.
Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year among the Oldest Old by John Leland. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2018. ISBN 9780374168186 (hardcover), 242p.
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book