Department Of First Things First
Beware the…you know what.
Happiness is not the station we arrive at but the manner by which we arrive.
(Oliver G. Wilson)
Mary Pipher: …one of the interesting facts about women my age is we’re the happiest demographic in America. In general, people tend to get happier as they age and stay happier right up until the very end. But women tend to be happier than men as they age…
Terry Gross: Why do you think older women are happier when they’re older than they were when they were younger? Is that what you’re saying?
PIPHER: Absolutely. (It’s) statistical fact – I’m not…just hypothesizing.
GROSS: But what accounts for that – ’cause, you know, it seems counterintuitive.
PIPHER: …It really starts with, what do you think the nature of happiness is? And I think happiness is a choice and a set of skills…. After all these years of being a therapist and watching my friends grow and develop and seeing the directions they take and then doing this book where I interviewed so many older women I have a pretty strong sense for what makes people happy. The first part of it is making a choice to be happy – just deciding that that’s a life goal, that I’m going to be happy. I’m going to do everything I can to make my life as good as I can.
And then it’s a set of skills. And one set of skills, for example, is humor and just figuring out how to laugh about things. Another skill is figuring out ways to have meaning and purpose in one’s life. Another skill is the ability to have friends…I call close women friends my mental health insurance policy because they’re so important. Another very important happiness skill is simply having reasonable expectations. My aunt Grace said, I get what I want, but I know what to want.
(excerpts from Fresh Air 2-27-19)
A recent Fresh Air episode, Women and Aging, had host Terry Gross interview clinical psychologist/ author Mary Pipher about Pipher’s new book, Women Rowing North. WRN expounds on the pluses of changing from middle age to old age. As per the book’s web page, WRN offers “a timely examination of cultural and developmental issues women face as they transition from middle age to old age. In life stage, women contend with ageism, misogyny, and many kinds of loss. Yet, contrary to stereotypes, most older women are deeply happy and filled with gratitude for the gifts of life.”
Moiself is not quite ready to read that book yet, but I enjoyed the podcast. Something said during the interview reminded me of one of the few advantages (other than, not dying) of aging which I have fully embraced:
“At this life stage, women start granting themselves the power of no.”
I see this – the power to say no – as related to the fact that I don’t have the proverbial bucket list. Many a person has regretted asking me what items are on my bucket list because I have (usually) replied honestly:
I don’t have a bucket list; I have a fuck-it list.
My Fuck-it list translates thusly: I don’t keep any kind of inventory of things I feel I must see and/or accomplish before I die, but as time marches on…
…I find moiself more willing and able to recognize those things/activities which may have been valid, obligatory or called for at one time but which I never want to do again, and/or those things which, regardless of whether I have done them previously or not, are simply not worthy of wasting the precious resource of dwindling time – time I will never get back – by engaging in them. As Pipher put it, there is the sense that the runway is short, and with what time we have left, we want to deeply savor every experience we have. And I give myself permission to say a graciously but firm No to any invitations to partake in experiences I know I will not savor (committee meetings, anyone?).
The power of no concept was almost a throwaway line, but what Pipher what said about “happiness being a choice” made me almost fall of my Bowflex Max Elliptical trainer.  I agree with her observations about happiness being more of a choice and a set of skills than an emotional state. And I have not come by this opinion lightly.
Although I love the REM song I am not a Shiny Happy People person, nor, despite what many people apparently think about moiself, I am not someone who is happy (or even content) all of the time.
Like Pipher, my extended family tree includes happiness impediments, including mental health/brain disorders, suicide, addiction, chronic disease, tragic deaths and abuse.  And in thinking about happiness being a life choice and/or skill, I neither ignore nor dismiss nor intend to insult those who might find even the idea of happiness unattainable as they face acute tragedies, or live with chronic contentment-dampening conditions, from clinical depression to progressive illness. Rather, I was intrigued by Pipher’s interviews and research with older people showing that there is overall tendency over a lifespan to, while facing whatever you have to face, arc toward happiness.
However. I have an issue with her stating happiness as a goal in and of itself.
My view is a little more nuanced in the sense that I think happiness should be a by-product rather than an end-product of life. I shall try to explain.
When my K and Belle were younger I often heard other parents talking about their hopes and dreams for their own children, which were stated in list format, ending with something along the lines of, “Whatever they do, I just want them to be happy.” I remember thinking to myself – and sometimes vehemently stating out loud – that, au contraire, I don’t just want my kids to be happy. Because whenever I pay the slightest attention to Whats Going On Around Me ® I see a lot of just happy idiots/incompetents/bullies/downright evil people. 
My wish, for both my children and moiself for that matter, is not for us to seek constant and perhaps idealized (and even unreachable) states of happiness. At what I hoped were age-appropriate points in their lives, I engaged K and Belle in conversations about how happiness should be a by-product, not the end-goal, of admirable life choices. I wanted them to lead good lives, question authority,  use reason and skepticism to evaluate claims, speak truthfully and kindly, and to Do The Right Thing ®.
Lest you think moiself is all serious, do-gooder inclined, I also, of course, want them to have fun. Which involves telling – or at least appreciating – fart jokes whenever possible.
Once again, I digress.
As per happiness, living a principled life will, eventually, provide its own gratification, for people with self-knowledge (and an IQ bigger than their belt size). But when you choose to do the right thing, when you strive to walk lightly and justly in this world, happiness is not always an immediate (nor in some cases, even eventual) byproduct of your actions. And that sucks.
When you stick up for the kid who is bullied at school you may then yourself become the bullies’ target. When you challenge workplace malfeasance and corruption there will be people, from your bosses to your supposed allies, who will make it their life’s work to make your life miserable – there’s a reason we have the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Department Of Important Definitions
Pipher does not define happiness as some state of perpetual joy – more along the lines of contentment, and capacity for appreciation. And she is fully aware of the fact that if you live long enough at some point you will have lost everyone who is important to you.
You know, what frightens me by far the most about aging is losing people I love….(my) brother-in-law of mine died – he was 28 and a soccer player. And he died of brain cancer. And that knocked me out for about a year. And last year, my daughter moved with her family, my two young grandchildren, up to Canada. And it was tremendously difficult for me.
So that is really very difficult for me to think, how will I cope with this continuing string of losses? And the implications of that for me are I need to have my life, which will include a great deal of loss – I mean, at this point in my life, one way or another, I’m going to say goodbye to everybody I know. So the antidote for that, the balancer for that is to have a life as filled with gratitude, fun, appreciation, joy, meaningful work as I can possibly have.
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Department Of Kids Get The Darndest Jobs 
This week was daughter Belle’s first at a new job. After graduating college last May and having a six month internship in the south, she realized the Pacific Northwest is where she wanted to be. She tot he West Coast, rented an apartment in Tacoma, and took the first job she found, at a place I’d heard about for years, from both her and her brother K,  . It is a classic hangout: a 1940s-50s inspired diner named, “Shake Shake Shake.” 
I offered to bribe pay Belle if she would put a sign reading “your booty” under the name of the diner, but she didn’t seem to think her bosses would appreciate it. Also, moiself had to explain the KC & the Sunshine Band song reference to her.
Speaking of which, I think we’re all deserving of a Seventies song break:
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Department Of “Classic” Books I’m Having A Hard Time Reading
Currently, that would be Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin’s series of novels involving a plethora of characters living in late 70’s – mid 80’s San Francisco. The books’ many protagonists are friends and lovers and husbands and wives and landlords and tenants and coworkers and bosses (and thinly veiled references to real life public figures) of all sexual orientations, whose lives intersect and overlap.
The novels, whose chapters first appeared as regular installments in the San Francisco Chronicle, were beloved by many San Franciscans, and convey the zeitgeist of that time period. Moiself, I’m finding it hard to follow. There are too many characters competing for chapter space – and the chapters are long on dialogue and short on descriptive prose. Although the dialogue is witty, I’m having a difficult time keeping track of which character is which: it’s like they all speak in the same voice, with even the straight characters spouting variations of the archetypal, Sassy Gay Best Friend ® sitcom repartee. 
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May you need no excuse to blast Shiny Happy People on a regular basis;
May you remember to cultivate your mental health insurance policy – your friends;
May you strive to do the right thing, and also to just have some fun;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
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 In that it really caught my attention…I was exercising on said machine while listening to the podcast…in case you were wondering if I just tripped over it.
 Including sexual abuse/incest.
 I didn’t get invited to a lot of Mommy/Baby play groups…which was just fine by moiself.
 Except your mother.
 Who graduated from the same college as his sister, only three years earlier.
 It has an extensive milkshake menu.
 No footnote here. You checked for nothing – don’t you feel stupid right now?