"If you would create
something, first you must
be something.”
Johann Wolfgang
von Goethe

What Death Can Teach Us About Happiness
(Tuesday, April 8th, 2014)

What Death Can Teach Us About Happiness

If you are anything like me, you’ve heard it all before- Be present, live every day like it was your last, tell people you love them, just be happy.  I do my best to live each day to the fullest, but in a world of distractions and technology, being present and happy is something that can get lost in the speed of it all.

A week ago my mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly.  She was a strong beautiful soul full of energy and life. In my mind Sheila, or Mum, had many happy and healthy years in front of her. She was always on-the-go, never sitting still for long. At 77 she regularly walked the two miles to the village where she lived in England to do her daily shopping and then walked the two miles back with her packages all up hill. She was tireless, always going, always giving and always smiling.  The week she passed away she was painting the fence in the yard.  Her heart was so big and her love for her family even bigger.  I sometimes thought I should be more like her around the house.   Her energy astounded me and her home-making skills put me to shame.

However one evening during dinner, Sheila experienced an aneurysm and within hours, she passed on.

When a loved ones dies, the pain is indescribable, yet death is the greatest teacher of life.  I feel so blessed to have known this delightful woman and to experience the way she lived her life. Having just published a book with the subject of happiness, I found myself questioning how a happy person processes death. Many people are so afraid of death that they don’t ever talk about it. I thought that we should take the optimist’s view of death and look at what it can teach us about life. Death makes us question our own mortality and is the one wake up call to the fact that tomorrow is never promised.  Death can teach us a great deal about our own happiness.  Happiness is a state of being and not a place to arrive. Below are some of my thoughts on what death and happiness have to do with each other.

LET LIFE TOUCH YOU EVEN WHEN IT HURTS – Even the happiest person is not happy all the time.  A healthy person will let life touch them and not run from bad feelings.  We live in a society where at the first sign of pain we pop a pill, instead of questioning where the pain is coming from because we are too afraid, or too unwilling, to actually feel it. As it pertains to death, grief, sadness and mourning are all a part of the healing process.  More than one person this week apologized after sharing a memory or a story of Sheila that made us cry. There is nothing wrong with your tears.  God gave you your tears to cleanse you and wash your pain away. I say cry, cry out loud, cry until you can’t cry anymore, cry until all your tears dry up.  If you really let yourself have a good heart wrenching cry, eventually your tears will stop.  Your feelings need an outlet and talking and crying is healthy. All a feeling wants to do is be felt. Don’t be afraid to FEEL pain. A broken heart is the sign of a heart that has loved. 

BE PRESENT- After mum passed, I questioned my own presence in her life.  Should I have played more games of cards, talked more about the topics that interested her, or simply been less distracted by my iPad and more present in the room.  Sheila was curious.  She was constantly asking questions about this or that.  I could have paid more attention and engaged in conversation more than I did. You really never know if the conversation you are having with someone today will be the last one that you have.  Make it a habit to give people your full attention. Happiness and joy happen only happen the now.

PUT EVENTS IN PERSPECTIVE – The traffic, the weather, the latest drama in your life… how important is it really?  Death helps us prioritize what is important extremely fast. One day you are worrying about the stains on the carpet and the next day, the only thing that matters is the time you spend with those you love. Get your priorities straight and then act.  Pay attention to what gets your attention and then make sure it is on your top list of priorities. I can honestly say that I have said, “I love you” to every important person in my life recently and spent time with them. That alone makes me happy.

GIVE LOVE AWAY – To everyone.  What do you have to lose? Why do we hold back?  Our love, our smiles, our sincere hello’s? How much love can you give away today?  How many smiles can you share? How tight and long can you stay in a hug?  The thing about love is you have an endless supply when you share it.  MAKE it a habit to give your love away. Say I love you and be the last person to let go in a hug. Don’t wait for love to come to you.  Give your love away.

FOCUS YOUR ENERGY- While talking and crying are a part of the process of mourning, pay attention to where you focus your energy.  Whatever you focus on grows.  Are you focusing on the negative, the loss, the unfairness of it all, or are you focusing on the happy memories and good times?  Years ago my neighbor lost her husband very young. I made it a habit to visit her once in a while to chat and have a cup of tea, but after five years she hadn’t progressed any further and was still as upset over her husband’s death as she was the day it happened.  We have control over what we focus on and if we want to heal, we have to put things in perspective and accept that the person we adored is gone from this world.  By focusing our energy on the gift that they brought to our life, we are able to heal and move on. Focus on celebrating their life, your fabulous memories and all the good things they brought to this world.

CHOOSE HAPPINESS – Focus on happiness.  When faced with today possibly being the last day of your life, I would assume you would choose to be present, to give love and to notice every little detail of the day.  You would relish in the sight of a flower, the sun on your face or a smile from a child. You wouldn’t waste your day away in anger, resentment or complaining about the weather.  Why not choose happiness every day.  Life happens, good events and challenging events, but the happiest people aren’t the people with no problems, the happiest people are the ones that choose to be happy over everything else.  Don’t let anyone or anything take that away from you. Be happy now and happiness is yours.

Death teaches us to live.  It reminds us of our priorities and helps us to realize that many of the trivial matters that upset us, are just that, trivial matters.  Happiness is a choice in life and death. I feel blessed to know this wonderful woman who loved my husband Gary first. She will be deeply missed by so many people. Her energy and her spirit are with me now as I type.  Her presence is strong and I feel it. I know there will be many times in the future that something will make me think of her and I promise to tune in, cry if I feel like it, and then smile as I see her laughing blue eyes and imagine what question she will ask next. Thank you for your loving ways, your indomitable presence and the spirit of inquiry by which you lived your life. I love you Sheila.

Learn about Michele’s book Happiness Is a Habit –  – Simple Daily Rituals That Increase Energy, Improve Well-Being and Add Joy to Every Day