The Happiness Formula
By Beth Rowles Scott
PINCH ME. Why pinch me? So I can be sure that this happiness I feel is not a dream, that my life has really changed so much since I was a fat little girl in Saskatchewan.
Growing up, losing my fatness and leaving my home province was sometimes fun, sometimes painful, often challenging. There were times when I would experience happiness, but then I would lose it again.
But I’ve had enough sightings of this elusive, mysterious happiness to give me a formula. Perhaps you have found your own way to happiness. But if you have not, do taste the ingredients of the Pinch Me happiness brew. May they serve you well!
A FORMULA FOR HAPPINESS
To be happy you need these three things: someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. The thesis could certainly be challenged: too simplistic, not universally applicable, or a concoction created from a limited point of view. Fair enough. But this formula for what constitutes happiness seems to work for me.
I particularly like the formula because it casts the responsibility for happiness squarely upon one’s own shoulders. Each item on the list appears to be achievable most of the time. Isn’t there always a way to find someone to love? Can’t one always find something to do? Isn’t it always possible to build into life something to look forward to?
I am now eighty-two years old. I have told my friends that the past fifteen years have been the happiest years of my life. Can this be true? Have these years affirmed the validity of the happiness formula?
It is fair to say that the Someone to Love element of the formula is being whittled away until there are no longer aunts and uncles, nor even Mother and Father. In fact, there is no longer a generation older than our own. The only good that seems to accrue from that, is the increased appreciation that we feel for those who are still part of our lives. The Someone to Love has become the Many Ones to Love. Most valued, however, is the love that my husband George and I have for one another.
SOMEONE TO LOVE
Love For Late Bloomers
Both George and I had a previous marriage, and then both of us had been single for several years. My contact with George had been minimal and not significant for either of us. There was, however, one memorable moment. A bit of St. Elmo’s fire flashed between us. It was on a Friday evening when we were having dinner with mutual friends. The event itself was not spectacular except for a stray bit of conversation between the two of us. Neither George nor I can remember the topic, but both of us can well remember how the room lit up that evening. Our friends at the dinner table didn’t notice a change in the aura, and we left it behind to go on with our separate lives.
When George’s wife died a few years later, I checked him out.
I asked an old friend, Vin, about George. Vin said, “Well, just sit and listen to him for a while. George is a great talker and he’ll soon be telling you stories that you can piece together until you know all about him. He’ll tell you about his attempt to climb the Matterhorn, how he failed and how he had to come home and eat crow after bragging about what he was going to do. He’ll tell you about some of his court cases, explaining first that lawyers will only tell you about the cases they have won. He will want you to see the totem poles he carved during his carving phase, and the small figures he fashioned from soapstone. He will talk about hiking and skiing and scuba diving. Just listen to him, Beth,” Vin said. I did listen to him and found that we had much in common, from our prairie roots to our love of the outdoors.
As our relationship became closer, I kept telling myself that I must just enjoy the nice times we were having together and not anticipate any serious outcome.
However, when minor glitches threatened, I had to hug my safe little house close around me and spend lots of time with my friends.
Though George and I enjoyed a “wilderness adventure” and vacations together, I lived an independent life. So when George unexpectedly asked me to marry him, I was truly surprised. I had thought that it might happen someday, but not yet. It was a proposal that I accepted immediately.
I was elated. I was very elated. I was going to burst into a whole new life with this man that I had come to find exciting and interesting, who said he loved me and whom I was sure I loved.
In 1991, at the age of 63, I married the love of my life, George Scott.
How great was this late-blooming romance! How wonderful have our last years been!
I say to anyone who will listen: “You never know what is just around the corner. You can very well find the happiness I’ve known.” And if they are as lucky as we are, the last years of their lives will be the best years.
SOMETHING TO DO
I was in a cocoon: in as safe and secure a place as I had ever known, surrounded by a beautiful home and George’s love. What more could anyone want?
Physically, nothing at all; psychologically, though, wider boundaries. I became aware that I needed to move out of this casing which had become too small a space for comfort. I did break out – into a whole world of space, a great exciting new territory.
It happened by chance. Or was it really by chance?
In January 1993, George and I read a book by Robert Rodale: Save Three Lives. This book had a profound effect on both of us.
Rodale talked about poverty and starvation in third world countries, and about the importance of addressing these problems early enough and in such a manner that they would not continue to recur time and time again. He believed that if each of us could help a family to sustain itself, we could “save three lives.”
Thus, George and I founded the African Canadian Continuing Education Society (ACCES). ACCES is a non-profit society providing Africans with access to education to build better lives for themselves and their society. Since 1993, ACCES has sponsored over 1,500 Kenyans to study in Kenyan universities, colleges and training colleges, set up 9 primary schools for over 1,200 children, helped reach thousands of Kenyans with information about HIV/AIDS, and established a small business training and micro-enterprise program.
I suggest that the Something to Do is not satisfying unless whatever is being done results in an accomplishment or an achievement. Now I have learned an additional quality that enhances this element: what is being done should have a clear purpose.
George and I have often been praised for our work as the founders of ACCES. We always reply that we are the ones that have received the greatest rewards. That is not modesty; it is the truth. ACCES has given us Something to Do that has a purpose and that particular purpose brings us joy.
SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO
The Something to Look Forward To has become increasingly important for us, but at the same time, increasingly easy to find. There are short-term objectives, like planting more perennials than annuals in our garden, and more ambitious, longer-term plans, such as going to Kenya to see ACCES in action, like the story of Mercy.
The Mercy story
Mercy Mmbone is twelve years old. Her home is in a Masingo slum. Mercy lives in a one bedroom shack beside a stagnant ditch that carries sewage. The neighbourhood swarms with cats, dogs, salesmen, drunkards and half-naked children. My greatest surprise comes from these children having fun wading in that sewage ditch, looking for tin cans, old bottles, rusty spoons, bits of metal, maybe some pennies.
Mercy grew up right here, in this ghetto, where she watched drunkards stagger from the chang’aa dens, hurling insults at each other, and touching small girls freely and carelessly.
This twelve-year-old girl was the last born in a polygamous family of sixteen. To Mercy, her sisters had nothing to show for in their lives, for with no schooling they quickly fell in with the local men and immediately began conceiving one child after another.
Mercy told me how much she wanted to go to school. She said that she couldn’t go to the schools that most children in Kakamega attended. Even though her mother did want her to go to school, she could not buy the uniform, pay the desk fee or the teacher appreciation fee, not even a pencil and a book to write in.
But something magical happened: Mercy’s mother found out about the ACCES school that was just down the road. At that school, there were no requirements for uniforms or supplies. “I found myself at Shitaho School,” Mercy told me, “and that’s made me very, very happy.”
Not that it was easy for Mercy. The worst part was the way she and the other children at Shitaho were scorned by the ones who attended the state schools. Everyone knew that these Shitaho children were the VERY poor ones in Kakamega, and they were not treated as equals. But more magic happened.
Mercy was allowed to join the pupils at Shitaho who had been trained as a poetry team. These pupils were so passionate and so enjoyed their teamwork that their teacher decided to enter them in a district competitive festival. They were a bit shy about that. Here they were, from a small school, the poorest children in Kakamega, and they were competing with many, many of the government-funded schools in the district. Amazingly, they won! The Shitaho team won!
Mercy could hardly believe it. Now she and her team were entitled to enter the festival for Western Province. Again, they won. They placed first in that competition, too! And you may have guessed — they were entered in the National Festival in Nairobi where they took fourth place. Fourth place in all of Kenya.
Can you imagine such a trip for these children? Can you imagine their excitement and joy? Can you think of the change in the status of that Shitaho School and for what a change it made in Mercy’s life?
All three elements of happiness have been qualified with experience and with the aging process.
I say to George, “Pinch me. Just pinch me so I can be sure that I am not dreaming. Can this life of ours be real? Can I really have all of this: Someone to Love, Something to Do, and Something to Look Forward To?”
Beth’s book Pinch Me can be purchased here at Granville Island Press. Net proceeds go to support ACCES.