Happiness 101

I have been hosting my radio show for many, many years. And a journalist and author for longer than I care to admit. In other words, I don’t want people to do the math and realize that I am no longer in my forties. Between us, I tried to claim that my oldest son, who actually will be 40 in August, was my stepson by my husband’s first wife. But it kind of backfired when someone asked about this fictional first wife. Suffice it to say that The Lawyer and I have been married for 43 years. So Alex is ours.  And, yes, the fact that we are the same age is a miracle. What more can I say?

But I digress. My mission, my passion, has always been to help my readers and listeners look and feel Better Than Before physically, mentally and spiritually. And I am always encouraged whenever I hear from someone who I have inspired say that I have helped them change their lives around for the better. In turn, I was asked the other day, who inspired me personally. To answer that, I always have to start from the beginning – with my amazing mother, Emily. She was an acclaimed author, syndicated beauty columnist, Coty Award-winning fashion designer, and a founder, director and trustee of the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Sadly, Alzheimer’s was the ultimate –and untimely – way her life ended. But her legacy of beauty, talent and wit, her important work, notably as the first creator of clothes designed expressly for teenage girls – the inventor of Junior Miss — will live on forever. That said, here is one story in particular that, given that a holiday is approaching and that some might feel hopeless rather than happy, I wanted to share with you.

And even though I have written about it before, I wanted to revisit the wise words of Emily Wilkens about becoming happier than before. In fact, to illustrate how far ahead of her time she was, the course now at Yale University on “positive psychology” — i.e., the field of study that focuses on well-being, as opposed to psychological dysfunction – is the most popular one ever offered by the university.

Just to give you a little background, I discovered Emily’s suggestions for a happier life many years ago when I opened a folder in my office and a paper fell to the floor. It was entitled: People Aren’t Born Happy … They Have to Work at It.

Emily noted that happiness and beauty—not necessarily physical beauty, but the glow from inner peace that is considered universally beautiful—go hand in hand. Bitterness, hostility, anger and depression are the enemies of loveliness, she felt, while laughter, joy, and peace are beauty’s best friends. My mother noted that it would be wonderful if we could simply push a happiness button, but that’s not reality. She said that if a cheery disposition doesn’t come easily to you, conscientiously practice the art, just as you would a musical instrument.

My mom claimed happiness is making the most of every second. She wondered why anyone would waste time on meaningless quarrels and malicious gossip. Life, she insisted, is way too short for negative or petty dramas. Much of what we worry about never happens anyway. And many of the other situations are totally out of our control as well. But nevertheless, we tend to allow minor irritations to morph into major issues in our mind. Worry, she maintained, is basically wasted energy and emotion. She advocated enjoying life now and suggested that happiness is having a goal and objective, and contentment comes from ultimately realizing it.

She stated that true bliss is the end result of believing in yourself, despite what others say or do. It is following what you think is right. She felt happiness is learning to laugh about situations, even when the joke is on you; and that you should try to find humor and wit in everything that surrounds you. It’s there if you just look for it. And, of course, nobody can be depressed while they are laughing.

According to Emily, people respond positively to a happy personality. In her view, happiness is also reliving pleasant memories through reviewing old photographs, rereading a favorite book, or contacting a friend who you haven’t seen for years and laughing over old times. (This was way before social media, mind you.)

Finally, happiness is enjoying the little pleasures in life—the first snowstorm, a log fire, a delicious meal, watching the sun rise or set on a beautiful summer day. She also believed that illness will never start in a happy body.

So to my beloved audience, on this holiday, here’s to freeing yourself from that cycle of negativity and developing a positive, proactive attitude going forward. It comes with love and best wishes for a fabulous Fourth—from my mother and me.