My Aunt Evey and Grandma Bev – two little old Jewish ladies with hearts bigger than their ever-growing hips who could literally love you to death – have endured more than most, with living in borderline poverty, abusive husbands and divorce being regular occurrences throughout their lives. Despite the fact that they are sisters and have grown up suffering the same hardships, my great aunt and my grandma could not possibly be any more different from one another.
My Aunt Evey is fine walking out of the house wearing a pair of stretch pants and a stained T-shirt, while my Grandma wouldn’t be seen in her own mirror wearing such a thing. Everywhere she goes, my Aunt Evey will unintentionally make new best friends; my Grandma Bev is usually scared of her own voice around new people. Finally, what separates the two of them more than anything else is the fact that my Aunt Evey is a genuinely happy human being. My Grandma Bev, on the other hand, is always depressed and finds herself in a constant state of dissatisfaction with essentially everything.
Even though she lost her only daughter at the young age of 28, my Aunt Evey has persevered. She has chosen to appreciate all that she has left in her life and is a deeply satisfied person because of it. My Grandma Bev, on the other hand, focuses on what-could-go-wrongs and I’d-be-much-happier-if-I-had-this. As a result, she constantly feels an overwhelming emptiness in her life that engulfs her consciousness and disconnects her from all those who love her. There is a constant sense of dissatisfaction with whatever life gives her because she chooses to pay attention to everything that’s wrong with a situation rather than anything that’s right with it.
So, why is my Aunt Evey able to be so happy while my Grandma Bev is completely incapable of doing so? Does my aunt have some sort of inherent “happiness gene” that was never activated in my grandmother? The answer lies in their respective outlooks on life. As trite and banal as the whole half-empty/half-full glass analogy may be, there is a reason that it is so overused.
My aunt understands that though her glass isn’t completely full, there is nevertheless half a glass left to be enjoyed. My grandma chooses to spend her time wishing the glass was full and loathing the fact that it’s not, and along the way has failed to remember there’s still plenty left in the glass.
We all want to be happy, but happiness is not something you either have or you don’t. It’s not something that’s going to be found in money, possessions or even loved ones. Happiness comes from within a person. It’s a conscious choice we make. Unfortunately for many of us like my Grandma – it seems infinitely more difficult than that. Happiness always seems just beyond our reach, and we constantly feel like we are stuck in the undertow of an unforgiving ocean, struggling to catch our breaths long enough to fight the current. The right perspective, however, can turn that riptide in the sea into a mere ripple in a puddle.
This year I’m going to take my column in a new direction. Instead of focusing on the same old social and political issues that I have in the past, I’m going to write about some of the things that we should think more about in life, some of the things we all go through yet do not give ourselves the time to process properly. My goal with this new endeavor that you, my reader, will be given at least a few minutes every week to reflect on some of these bigger life issues. Reflection is invaluable in discovering our own personal happiness. It allows us to understand ourselves: our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our strengths, our weaknesses. It provides us an avenue to step outside of ourselves in order to take time to appreciate what really matters to us and free ourselves from the petty drama in which we too often find ourselves entangled. Through reflection, we can all lead more satisfying, happier lives. It is my deepest hope that this column will give you a chance to do just that.
Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]