WE ONLY WANT TO TAKE HAPPINESS ADVICE FROM WOMEN OVER 80
Wisdom collected over decades of joy, sadness and everything in between
When it comes to the pursuit of happiness, we live in a world awash with advice. There’s the tarot card reader on Instagram imploring you to use the new moon to release negative energy; the daily pseudo profundities posted on Facebook by someone you haven’t seen since 2006; the endless self-care TikTok channels, with their cheerful promise of joy at the end of a rainbow scrub.
And while we thank each and every one for their efforts, sometimes life (and its pandemics) makes us crave advice with a bit more gravitas. The kind that’s hard won, collected over decades of disappointment, joy and everything in between, and delivered from a vantage point of deep perspective. In short: If we’re taking happiness tips from anyone, it’s going to be from women over 80.
So grab a notebook, put down your phone and brace yourself for a load of wisdom courtesy of three octogenarian/nonagenarian marvels sharing what they’ve learned over their lifetimes so far. You’ll be happier just reading their stories.
“I don’t let little things bother me”
“I’m from the Philippines, and we moved to Canada in 1993. My eldest child came here first. I have six children—three boys, three girls—and I’m so proud of them. I was in college, but I didn’t finish, so they are my diploma.
I’m happiest when I’m surrounded by my family. The moments we spend together are the most precious thing—when we’re all just talking, and I get to listen to them reminisce about their childhood, and hear them fill the home with lots of laughter. It’s priceless.
I haven’t seen my children since COVID, and I miss them. In the meantime, I’ve found comfort and happiness in gardening. I’ve always loved it—I get my exercise watching the flowers bloom! It leaves me feeling happy and relaxed. I started my garden by planting seeds, and sometimes I use cuttings from perennial flowers. It’s worth it to watch them grow and bud, and bloom. I love to walk around and look at them. I even talk to them! I say, ‘Come on, give me the best flowers.’ And when somebody appreciates my garden, it makes me feel so good. My tiredness is all gone.
I think happiness is achieved by accepting things we cannot change and appreciating what is around us. Stay positive as much as you can.
I don’t let little things bother me. If I have a problem that I can’t solve, I just put it aside and when I have time, I’ll go back to it and try to solve it. If I find the right way to fix my problem, that makes me happy—but if I can’t, I’ll leave it. If you keep on thinking about a problem, it makes you crazy. Do what you can, slowly. Don’t rush-rush.
I would advise the younger generation to surround themselves with positive people and learn to put down your phone so you can spend some valuable time with your family, without interruption. You’ll have better relationships.”
“I grabbed the bull by the horns and took a chance”
“I was born at home in the suburb of Fordburg, in Johannesburg, South Africa. My mother had her children young, so we grew up with a vivacious, wonderful woman full of so much life. My father was stern, but there was also so much love. Being the fifth—and the youngest—child, I was spoiled, not just by my parents but by my siblings, too. We weren’t wealthy, but we were very happy.
My mom got ill at a young age, and when we lost her, I automatically took over the role of caring for my father and the household. I suddenly had to grow up and be this responsible girl, running a very busy home. I was entertaining, I was cooking—my father would praise me uphill, even if it was a disaster, because I was learning through trial and error. I did miss out on some of my teenage years, but I’ve never resented it. I had my fair share of suitors, but I chose not to marry, because I had all this responsibility.
And then, suddenly, my dad passed away. I was pushing into my 30s, and for the first time in my life, I was scared. I realized that I had no career. I’d worked a little at our family’s printing press, but it wasn’t really a job. All I had done was run a home. My siblings wanted me to come and live with them, but there was something in me that had to try to make a life on my own, even if I was scared out of my wits!
I ended up going to visit one of my sisters, who lived in Canada, and on the way I travelled through Europe. I was like a cat let out of its cage! I’d never been able to think of Kay, and all of a sudden, there was this whole wide world out there. Then I came to Canada, fell in love with it and decided to immigrate. I was born into apartheid, and that was a major factor: I always resented how they treated us, and I wanted freedom. I’ve made a good life here in Canada, and now I feel like a true Canadian.
I didn’t really make time to get married—there was so much to do, so much to see—but when I was in my 40s, I met a fabulous man and the greatest love came into my life. That time was the happiest period in my life. I’d sort of given up on that side of things, you know? But I experienced so much joy because we just had such a good time together. He has now been hit with quite a bit—a lot, actually—of dementia, and he’s still in my life, but it’s not the way it used to be. I was angry about that at the beginning, but now I just thank God that I had that wonderful affair. I never had children, but my life is filled with so much love, especially from my nieces.
You do go through bumps in life, and there have been times I’ve wished things were different, but I always remember three things my father said before he died. I’ve followed them, and they’ve held me in good stead.
The first thing he said was, ‘When I’m gone, you’ve got to think about your own life. Don’t be a burden. Don’t go and live with one of your brothers or sisters, because they’ve got partners now, and you don’t want to cause a problem in their life.’ That’s why I grabbed the bull by the horns and took a chance—and now I couldn’t imagine living with anyone else, ever.
The second thing was the importance of saving. From an early age, he and my mom instilled in us that you can’t live from penny to penny, and you need to plan for a rainy day. And hasn’t that helped me! When I think about it, I’ve never been short of anything.
The third thing he told me was the importance of religion. Both my parents would say, ‘The family that prays together, stays together,’ and it’s remained an important part of my life. I often tell people: ‘Just pray. Ask God, and He listens—whatever you call Him.’”
“Sometimes I’ll feel sorry for myself, and then I’ll look back and think, ‘Why are you feeling that way? You have so many happy memories of things’”
“I was born in Mimico, which is now Etobicoke in Toronto, on August 21, 1923.
I imagine I was happiest when my children were growing up. Without them, there wouldn’t have been anything. There were so many happy times, it’s hard to single out one in particular. When you get to my age, you’re not much help to anybody, and you look back to those times when you feel as though you’ve done something, and had love.
I didn’t get married until I was in my 30s, and before that, I travelled quite a bit and I enjoyed my work as a secretary. When my first son was born, we decided—same as everyone else at the time—that I’d stay home and look after the children.
Growing up, we didn’t think a lot about being happy. We just went from day to day. We had bad times to go through, but we went along as we were. I’m not a spiritual person, but I had a great mother and father, and when I needed them, they were always there.
My mother always seemed happy, but when I look back at the things that my parents went through, I don’t know how they could have been. They were born in the 1890s, and they both immigrated from England, although at different times. My father was in the First World War, and when my parents married, the Depression was on, and when that was coming to a close, the Second World War came. That generation really had the worst of it. I look back and think they were very brave. They never complained about anything, and although they didn’t have a lot of pleasant things, they made their own happiness.
It’s something I’ve learned to do as well. Sometimes I’ll feel sorry for myself, and then I’ll look back and think, ‘Why are you feeling that way? You have so many happy memories of things.’ I have a few friends left, and one in particular: a girlfriend who’s a year older than me, and we’ve been friends since we were 2 or 3 years old. She phones me and we talk about old times.
I’ve always loved travelling. I did it before I was married, and then we used to go camping all the time when we didn’t have a lot of money to take trips. Later on, when my husband retired, we did a lot of travelling. He liked it, I liked it, and that was a happy time, too. I couldn’t choose the best place we visited because there were so many! I think travel is good for you because it shows you how other people live, and it reminds you that you’re just a little speck in the world.
I think happiness is something you’re born with, it’s in your nature. There are some people who couldn’t be happy if they tried! I’ve known people who have had very hard times, and yet they still have that happiness about them, and then there are some people who you’ll just never please. Luckily, they’re few and far between.”
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