31. Happiness

One thing I enjoyed about my wife was how she could be unbelievably optimistic. Sometimes like Pollyanna.

Pollyanna was a character in popular children’s books written by Eleanor Porter between 1913 and 1915. Classics my wife read as a little girl in the 1940s.

In Porter’s stories, no matter how awful things were, or could be, Pollyanna saw the good side. Happily. Almost annoyingly so.

As a little boy those books were not on my reading list. My view of life has been realistically positive.

Not Pollyannaish.

When I look at my wife now, hunched over in a wheelchair, I can see her smile. When I ask, “Are you happy?” she will often whisper one word, “Definitely.”

Something in her brain tells her she is not a victim. Even within the fog of Alzheimer’s.

She is somehow in control of her destiny and knows it. In her cognitive and spiritual existence, she understands her world as it is now.

And her strategy for meeting that challenge is to see the good side. To be Pollyannaish.

I am happy she can be that way. And I envy her.


As caregiver of a wife with Alzheimer’s, I am not Pollyannaish. But neither do I feel like a victim. The life I have today was always something I expected as a possibility in the repertoire of challenges.

Challenges for which planned contingencies were needed.

Those challenges could not be described or pictured in exacting detail. They were just variations on a theme.

The theme loomed large with frightening components. Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia was one of the components. One of many variations.


As a volunteer leader in AARP Kansas, I have immersed myself in studies associated with caregiving. That makes sense given my status as a caregiver of a wife with Alzheimer’s.

Recently I have expanded my range of interests within AARP. Now I seek ways to meet a challenge issued by Jo Ann Jenkins, the organization’s CEO.

In her book, Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age, Jenkins lays out a multipart plan. As shown in the book’s title, she strives to help all of us think and act differently about growing older.

No matter what age we are now.

After reading Jenkins’ book, something new dawned on me.

Why does American secondary and post-secondary education rarely cover ALL essential aspects of adult life, including what it takes to be happy?

Schools prepare adolescent and young adult students to be responsible and productive citizens. Students in upper grade levels are prepared for a vocation or profession.

In brief, they are taught how to pursue life and liberty. American ideals.

Life in terms of showing students how to live comfortably and work productively. Liberty by ensuring that students understand rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.

But where in schools are students taught the basicsof happiness?

Assuming happiness is an outlook that makes living worthwhile at every stage of life.

What makes people happy can range from the highest, most moral of aspirations, to the basest impulses of humankind. And the way they pursue their ideal of happiness also extends from enlightened to vile.

But I believe there is a happiness middle ground. And that middle ground is related to how we manage our day-to-day lives, year after year.


One chapter in Jenkins’ book is titled “A New Vision for Living and Aging in America.” In that chapter she describes four freedoms. Happiness is one of them.

Others are the freedom to choose, earn and learn. Those three “freedoms,” unlike happiness, can be achieved if we carefully examine options, make informed decisions, create possible contingencies in case of roadblocks, and stay true to our course of action.

Informed choices, strategies to maximize earnings, and the self-discipline to constantly learn.

We have the freedom to become involved in those three ways of behaving.

But our society and education do not always help people take advantage of them. Too many people make bad choices, discount the importance of financial independence, and scoff at opportunities to learn.

Persons oblivious to those three ways of behaving can suffer later in life. The same is true if they are unable to take advantage of these behaviors for some reason.

They become a burden to themselves and to the society in which they live.

American culture reveres self-determination and achievement as an individual strength. There is much to be said for that belief.

But we as a society are quick to overlook the horrific impact of a poor education system. A dysfunctional family. The challenges of disparity. The lurking catastrophe that lies behind disease, accidents, economic downturns, and a myriad of other unexpected influences on life.

How can we plan for being happy with the knowledge the world may fall in on us any minute?

How can a husband plan for being happy when he knows his wife is likely to contract Alzheimer’s? Or is now dying from it?

Happiness will not be achieved by pretending, like Pollyanna. Or wishing for it.

Paraphrasing Jenkins’, we need to find a path to living our best life at every age.

And we need to manage our destiny by controlling our self-perceptions and actions. By understanding how our world works. By devising and using strategies for meeting its necessary challenges.

“Happy” partially emerges when goals are met. It fully emerges when the “I” becomes a supportive “we.” Together, contingencies are identified and dealt with. Victimhood is squashed.

Stay tuned.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: