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Wise reminders for healing, happiness

I am still wrestling with grief after the death of my husband in June this year.

It is autumn now. I tell myself I should be feeling less sorrow-filled. And on some days, I do. But it is fleeting. Happiness is elusive.

I am familiar with the research on aging that suggests older adults, people like me, are a happier lot overall. It was not until recently I considered that particular research finding in the context of the almost-always-assured death of loved ones that accompanies getting older.

Research indicates “socioeconomic status, physical health and social involvement” play a significant role in overall well-being and happiness for “the elderly.” But “wisdom was found to be almost twice as influential.” (Chartwell.com, 2018)

Wisdom begets happiness, you say — let’s think about that.

I have always believed happiness was a state of being — more often present when the sun is shining brightly or when I am immersed in laughing discussions with friends or a frolicking lawn game with grandchildren. I have those moments — I am fortunate. Some people do not. But I need something that does not go away when the sun sets and friends and family leave.

How do we/I keep happiness happening? How do I stay wise and life-satisfied in my final years?

Over the decades, studies have shown that life satisfaction increases between age 40 and 70. However, a few large studies also demonstrate a steep decline in life satisfaction after age 70 (NIH.gov, 2011). I am wondering if the death of a loved one plays a role in that.

It’s a research query, perhaps. But for me, more importantly, it’s a personal question. I have thought about it a lot lately, and I am coming to my own conclusions. I believe that happiness, well-being, life satisfaction starts with holding close and embracing each day as if it is the only thing you can be sure about.

Let me say that even more emphatically. I think happiness, at any age, requires that we pay attention to today. “Do what’s necessary here and now — the compliment you mean to give, the time together you keep putting off, the resolution of an old pain you yearn to talk about but haven’t gotten around to — these are the things to attend to before it is too late.”

After my husband’s death, I was given several copies of a small paperback book that offered “daily reflections for working through grief.” The hold-in-the-palm-of-your-hand book “Healing After Loss” was compiled by Martha W. Hickman, a now-deceased wife, mother, grandmother and teacher. She created a wise reminder about healing and happiness. There is a short, one-page reflection for each day of the year.

Some people call it “the classic resource to strengthen, inspire and comfort.” I gave the extra copies I had of the book to my children, and they told me it has done just that.

Today is the only day I have for sure. May I use it well.

Sharon Johnson is a retired associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and author of “How Gray is My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com