My grandmother’s eighty-seven year old body has just about run its course. It has decided that after eighty-seven years of smoking, drinking and borderline racism – it’s simply had enough. Even the simplest of physical tasks has become a chore – showering is no longer a solo activity, oxygen bottles have become her best friend, walking is becoming an effort and her breathing is beginning to sound like an emphysemic Darth Vadar.
Consequently, she has been moved to a nursing home. To be honest, I’ve been putting off going to visit her because in my mind, nursing homes always sounded like the place hope went to die. I wrongly assumed that, because these were people who were staring death directly in the face, they would be somewhat down about it. It was however, quite the opposite. The trip to the nursing home made me think about the key to happiness, and why these people on the verge of death were so fucking happy.
I think the first reason is that they enjoy the little things in life. My grandmother had lost an ornament in the move to the nursing home, it was a bear wearing a postman’s outfit that my dad had bought her from the supermarket some time ago. Finding this ornament seemed important to her, so I helped her look through her things and we eventually found it – from the look on her face, you would have thought we had uncovered the secret to everlasting life. This benign, inconsequential ornament bought her so much joy – and it made me realise that we should live every day like that. I think, as human beings, we have this tendency to base our happiness on large scale events and tend to think we’ll be happier once particular things happen. We have the tendency to view the time between these big events as simply time we’re filling in – that we’ll be happier once we graduate, or once we get past this semester, or once we meet our future partners. I think we’d all be a lot happier if we viewed every day as a collection of joyous moments. If instead of focusing on the mundane parts of our day, we viewed it as a collection of times you got to share a joke with a friend, or got to hug someone, or got to make someones day a little better, or learnt something new, or heard something beautiful, or saw something beautiful.
I think the second reason is they understand that their relationships are the only important things in this life. I have two grandmothers – one is rich, the other is poor. They lived vastly different lives but the thing you realise when they start to get older is, the amount of nice stuff you have doesn’t mean shit. The only things of value something can own, is the relationships they’ve fostered over the course of their lives. I feel like sometimes we can get so caught up in wanting a successful career, or wanting a certain lifestyle, or wanting to gain particular experiences – that we lose sight of what’s really important, the people around us. There’s nothing wrong with wanting all of those things, and I certainly hope everyone reading this has a long and successful career, garnering wonderful experiences along the way – but I feel like it needs to be done with the people who love us in mind, to take care not to alienate the people who really care about us.
I think the last reason they’re so happy is they take each day as it comes. When you’re not sure whether you’re going to wake up tomorrow, it truly forces you to take life one day at a time. The do not worry about the future, they merely take care of each day and let the future sort itself out, if it should come. I’m not advocating that we take a “fuck the future” approach – drop out of uni and start a hippy commune under the Narrows Bridge – I’m simply saying worrying about the past, or the future is of no benefit. Simply do the best you can now, and the future will sort itself out.