Once you’ve reached a certain age and have achieved some goals, it’s quite unsettling to realize that you’re still not happy. So the search for contentment begins in earnest. Books are read, seminars taken and seers desperately consulted all in an often vain attempt to ring satisfaction out of life.
But free opportunities for happiness come calling almost every day so quietly they are often overlooked.
For me, this epiphany came while sitting in a pew at a local church watching a dear childhood friend get married for the first time at age 51.
Jean still kept in touch with quite a number of high school friends who had moved away from our suburban New York neighborhood and many of them had come in for the occasion from out-of-town.
One of the people she had most been looking forward to seeing was Cindy.
A smart, beautiful blond with a bubbly personality and a great sense of humor, Cindy had simply been the coolest girl in school. She, Jean and another woman named Eileen (who had also come in for the wedding) were our school’s version of The Big Three in the Popularity Wars. I was on the periphery, friendly with them, but never quite invited into the inner circle.
Cindy moved away from our town to New Jersey when we were in our senior year in high school (but of course she was invited back to our prom by one of the most popular guys in our school). Later, she had moved to California.
Jean’s mother died suddenly at age 65 and Cindy sent her a condolence card from a suburb of Portland, Oregon, where she was now living with her husband and children. Jean reciprocated with a thank you note, but somehow it never got to Cindy. They both assumed the other didn’t want to keep in touch.
About twenty years later, Cindy friended me on Facebook. It was then that I told her that Jean, who was not on Facebook, would love to hear from her. They had joyously re-connected via email and had been in close touch ever since.
So, when they caught sight of each other on the church steps, not only the geography, but the years separating them, seemed to vanish.
Sitting there in the cathedral during the ceremony, I couldn’t help but contemplate serious issues like what kind of food was going to be served at the reception, life, love and my own mortality.
I thought: If I die tomorrow, what would be my legacy? By that I meant, what could I be most proud of accomplishing while I was here on earth?
And then I thought that at least one of those things would be reestablishing the bond between two inseparable childhood friends like Jean and Cindy. In fact, it was probably one of the most satisfying things I had ever done.
The concept is ancient, but still true: the good and laughter we create for the people in our lives (and are sometimes lucky enough to share with them) is what makes for happiness.
But this message often gets lost amongst all those we are bombarded with on a daily basis about what we supposedly need (a nicer car, better body and more accomplished kids).
What I am referring to are intangibles— like the time and sensitivity you offer to those you love. When you remember these things, you create an inner smile and an easier path to self-acceptance.
If you haven’t answered happiness’s call yet, there is still time for you to do it.
Wendy Aron has written for publications nationwide, including The New York Times and Newsweek. She is an award winning humorist (Society of Professional Journalists) and comic memoir author. Wendy is working on a collection of humorous essays for Baby Boomers. Samples of her work can be seen at www.wendyaron.com.
Photo credit: ‘Knock on the door‘ by Big Stock