ENCORE: The Pursuit of Happiness in the Second Half of Life

As we age we become more aware of the importance of happiness. Our founding fathers recognized that this emotion was important when they wrote that we were guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness. But happiness, it turns out, is a slippery prize, most often showing-up as a by-product when we're busy doing something else. While there isn't just one "something else" that will lure happiness into our lives, there are some guidelines recommended by experts.

  1. Pursue your values. A value is a belief we consider part of our moral outlook on life. Pursuing your values often leads to situations needing action. The actress Audrey Hepburn understood this when, in spite of battling a terminal illness, she turned her love of children into the development of a fund to help suffering children around the world. Like Ms. Hepburn, when we become involved with what we consider important, happiness seems to show up.
  2. Do something you've postponed. Careers and families have kept most of us busy but now it's possible to try something we've always wanted to do. Anna Mary Robertson was too busy to paint until she was seventy. Once she started, she found painting made her happy and she painted until her death at 101. We know her best as Grandma Moses. It's important for all of us to find our own postponed interests, creativity and talent. We will find satisfaction and who knows? A few of us may even find fame.
  3. Connect with others. We're created as social beings, designed to be part of the human family but it's easy to become isolated as we age. While we may need others, it is equally true that others need us and that from connection grows happiness. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The only way to have a friend is to be one." When we connect with others, something inside resonates and it is that resonating that has been called the music of life.
  4. Make lemonade. We've all heard that if we're given lemons we should make lemonade and there are examples all around us of people who are enriching their own and other's lives by doing just that. We all have encountered problems. The musician Duke Ellington said, "A problem is a chance for you to do your best" and it is that action that opens the door to happiness.
  5. Be yourself. This is perhaps the most surprising guideline for finding happiness but, ultimately, the most important. During a lifetime there are many pressures on us to play roles but happiness results when we feel free to accept and be who we truly are. There is a story of a Rabbi named Zusha who once said, "When I die, God will not say to me, Zusha, why were you not Moses? Instead, God will say to me, Zusha, why were you not Zusha?" To be happy we must be who we truly are, and know that we are indeed acceptable.

Our founding fathers, in their wisdom, knew there was no way to guarantee happiness but instead that happiness was a possibility for those who knew how it could be pursued. We know that it is best pursued through these other channels, allowing happiness to find and reward us.

Dr. Ann G. Thomas is a psychotherapist, an educator, a storyteller, a writer, and a grandmother. Her most recent release is The Women We Become: Myths, Folktales, and Stories About Growing Older (Volcano Press). For more information, visit www.Dr-AnnThomas.com. www.dr-annthomas.com

This article appeared in the September 2007 issue of Northwest Prime Time, the Puget Sound region’s monthly publication celebrating life after 50.

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