One key component of elder wisdom has come up often on this blog: That happiness is a choice, and not a condition. Over and over, respondents in the Legacy Project told us that life invariably involves loss and difficulties. However, individuals can make a conscious choice to make the best of their circumstances – even when the circumstances aren’t ideal.
Marty, 82, is a retired college professor. He’s gone through the loss of his first wife in his mid-60s and is now in a very happy second marriage. Marty emphasizes the importance of choosing to be optimistic and as cheerful as possible:
I think you have to be enthusiastic about things and not be grumbly about everything. I always follow the idea that, well, today’s today, and if today doesn’t go well I’ll try it again tomorrow. I think that’s very, very important.
My first wife died and I was really down, I would have to say. And then I woke up one morning and I said to myself, “You know George, what you always used to say to your students when something happened was “Suck it up and get on with life!” And, to me it was amazing that I didn’t tell myself the same thing. But I did it that morning. That was in 1995, and on that day I decided I still was young enough to do things – and I did! I think we all doubt when we get to certain ages that we can do it anymore. But you can still make a difference to people.
I believe that lots of people are not very flexible. And I think sometimes you have to be flexible in order to continue to have a good life and continue to do the things where you can help people.
So I decided that although I was older when my wife died, I wasn’t going to give up. I hadn’t dated anybody in forty years, so it was going to be hard.. But, I think you have to say to yourself, “Look, life goes on.” There are lots of things that’ll happen to you that you’ll have to overcome whether you’re twenty or thirty or forty; it doesn’t matter. You have to move on.
So tell people to remember that it’s never too late, it’s never too late to change and it’s okay to change.