4 Tips for Finding Happiness: One Woman’s Story to Inspire Us

“How do you look so good?” wrote a friend on Gail’s Facebook page. She replied, “because I’m happy.” I knew then that I needed to interview this 82-year-old acquaintance to learn more about her and share her tips for happiness. I’ve known Gail through our mutual volunteer work, but I didn’t really know her. We met for coffee and 2 hours later it quickly is obvious why she is happy.

But first a little background to set the stage for happiness in her octogenarian years. Gail grew up in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina where, like many of her generation, she played outside all day until her parents called her in for supper. Her mother loved to travel and took Gail and her sister on family adventures, enriching their lives and exposing them to new places and people.

After she graduated from Stetson University with an accounting degree, she joined Delta Airlines as an internal auditor. It quickly became apparent to Gail that she wasn’t cut out for desk work and so she was encouraged to become a flight attendant or “stewardess” as they were called then. “I loved flying back in the day when flying was civil! I worked the initial flights to the west coast and flew for 5 years until I got married. At that time, stewardesses had to retire when they married or when they turned 35…can you believe that?”

Once she had a daughter, she enjoyed staying at home with her for a few years until she went through a divorce. Her daughter was in school, and she missed working and was ready to get back into the business world. She started as a legal secretary at small law firm and eventually became the legal administrator for a large Atlanta law firm. “Even though I worked 50-60 hours each week, “I loved my job, but began to hate the Atlanta traffic!”

With her daughter in college and after her mother passed away, it made sense to move back to North Carolina to help care for her father who was showing signs of dementia. “My father’s favorite saying was ‘every day’s a holiday’ and he had such a love for life that it was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with him as he aged.” It also brought an unexpected adventure…. she was invited to attend a high school acquaintance’s 45th reunion. “Dann was 2 years ahead of me in school and we dated in high school and I hadn’t seen him in 45 years and we met up at the reunion and the rest is history! We’ve been married for 18 years. Between us we have 3 grown children, 6 grandchildren, and assorted grand dogs and cats.”

Gail and Dann in 1957 and recreating the photo 45 years later!

Recently, Gail revealed she lost 45 pounds in the past 2 ½ years. “I had slowly gained weight and I just didn’t feel as good as I wanted to, so I decided to eat more thoughtfully. No special diet or crazy restrictions, just eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meat, and fish and watching portions sizes. And no mindless snacking.”  Since losing weight, one of the things she enjoys “is trying a new recipe every week or two. I cook simple recipes with just a few ingredients, not too many steps or long preparation time. It makes preparing and eating meals enjoyable.” She also is conscious of staying hydrated. “Fortunately, I enjoy drinking lots of water.”

She also walks regularly with her husband and uses Silver Sneaker videos to practices balance exercises. “I know I need to add strength training and with the pandemic ending I will get back to the YMCA to work on it.”

Getting back to the comment she made on being happy she explained, “happiness is a choice.” Gail’s good friend describes it this way, “Joy is a gift and happiness is a choice.” Indeed, in The Book of Joy: Lasing Happiness in a Changing World by the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu (if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!)  the pillars of joy are identified and categorized as:

  • Qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance
  • Qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity

Gail exhibits all eight of those qualities!

I asked Gail for 3 tips for healthy aging, and she immediately replied, “I’ve got 4 tips!”

  • Exercise the body and the brain.
  • Eat healthfully and think before you eat.
  • Socialize with a wide range of people of different ages and backgrounds.
  • Think happy, live happy!

This quote from the Book of Joy sums up Gail:

 “The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

Chris Rosenbloom is a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog by clicking here.