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Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old by John Leland, Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, US $26.00, Pp 244, January 2018, ISBN 978-0374168186

Are you happy with your life? Probably not. Most people are unhappy with their lives. As you grow older, you tend to become less and less happy. In 2015, award-winning journalist John Leland started meeting six of the oldest New Yorkers on behalf of the New York Times. He expected them to talk about challenges, loneliness, bad health and mental condition, and bad quality of life. Surprisingly, they told him they were living rich lives in spite of their old ages and different backgrounds. In Happiness Is a Choice You MakeJohn Leland argues that you can choose to be happy under most circumstances. John Leland explored the lives and ideas of six oldest of the old New Yorkers to understand how they manage to remain happy. Happiness Is a Choice You Make is a collection of six stories of six happiest of the happy old people. All these six persons manage to enjoy lives and remain happy in their own different ways. If they can be happy, so can you – in your own way.

One of these six oldest of the old is Ping Wong who moved to America from Hong Kong three decades ago. Ping is full of advice for the unhappy people. Ping asks you to see the world while you’re young. Make money. Have fun. Don’t indulge at the expense of your health or financial security. Be satisfied with your life. Ping said, “Work is happiness, to make you live longer.” She very often talked about preparing for life’s end, by which she meant financially, not philosophically. “The most important thing is money for your last day,” she said.

Fred Jones (born 1927) always found reasons to feel fortunate. He was buffeted one way or another by the health care system, racked with pain, each day a little more isolated from the outside world. His daughter was dying and he was largely estranged from his other five children. His brother, the closest person in his life, hit his head in a fall and was having seizures that affected his speech, so the brothers could no longer talk on the phone. Fred took it all in its stride. He said, “I never wanted to act like old people… They sit around, ‘Oh, child, I could tell it was going to rain ’cause my lumbago is bothering me.’ I don’t see no enjoyment in talking about illness. I like to talk stuff about stuff like songs and who wrote them, and the football game on Sunday. That’s upbeat stuff for me.”

John Leland says that the elders were all proof that you could live a full and fulfilling life even when the weather turned stormy. So why worry about the clouds in the forecast? His advice for his readers is: “Live your life, put on a show, take a chance, give thanks for your failures along with your successes – they’re two sides of the same coin.” He says that if we are living longer, maybe we have an obligation to live better: wiser, kinder, more grateful and forgiving, less vengeful and covetous. All those things make life better for everyone, but especially the person trying to live by them. Even, he adds, when we fail in our attempts to get there.

Most people are unhappy for frivolous reasons. Happiness Is a Choice You Make is packed with lessons for such unhappy people. John Leland shows that these six oldest of the old people are leading happy lives because they have chosen to be happy. They all chose different ways to achieve happiness because there is not one single way to achieve happiness. It is a very inspirational book that will help you find your own way to a happy life.

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