As my 72nd year gets well underway, I’ve been analyzing what accounts for my happy frame of mind. What has allowed me to age and continue to maintain a sense of contentment, satisfaction and … well, happiness?
First of all, finding and keeping Pamela, my life partner. She evinces brilliance, shares my interests, provides constant sources for pride, supports my endeavors and provides companionship in our adventurous lives.
I’ve maintained long-term friendships with a limited number of very smart, talented people I care about and with whom I share equal and open exchanges. They are willing to accept my flaws, praise my strengths and tell me when I’m off base. I offer them a sounding board, a willingness to share a good meal or an excellent martini and enthusiastic participation in lively conversations.
A major factor in my happiness was an early acceptance of my preference for memorable experiences over material possessions. Memories of approaching Antarctica on a Russian icebreaker, circling the Galapagos Islands on a three-masted schooner, visiting an exquisite pagoda in Myanmar and hiking in a Utah slot canyon will remain with me forever. They won’t tarnish, break, get stolen or require expensive upkeep and insurance.
My choice of a profession gave me the opportunity to do well by doing good. I helped people achieve their dreams and create institutions that make a difference to individuals and entire communities. My work as a fundraising consultant helped good people erect excellent museums, solid social service agencies and thriving educational institutions.
Indulging in charitable giving to organizations I believed in has offered me ongoing pleasure. Without ever gaining great wealth, I donated about 20 percent of my income to good causes. I’ve endowed a community college scholarship, supported significant cultural institutions and helped at-risk youth.
My giving also has its selfish aspects, since the thanks that I receive provide ongoing affirmation that my life has meaning and that my generosity makes a difference in people’s lives. Multiple studies have demonstrated that giving contributes to happiness, and I can attest to the truth of that statement. People who give generally live longer. Those are good odds to play.
Buying a few things that will last my life and that provide me with pleasure on a daily basis plays a major role in my happiness. Over the past decades, I’ve purchased works by artists who are friends and whose work is extraordinary in its evocation of the best in creative endeavors.
Every day I can appreciate paintings, pottery and sculpture by supremely talented people. When Pamela wears jewelry art by artists we know, it offers ornamentation for her and aesthetic joy for me.
Sometimes, I’m sad, occasionally for weeks at a time, and I’ve learned to seek guidance from those trained to help me. A wise therapist gave me a lasting gift when she advised, “Imagine yourself surrounded by your friends, each of whom affirms their love for you. Believe them. You’ve earned that love and deserve to accept it.” It’s advice I would pass on to others.
On the other hand, I’ve steadfastly ignored the ravings of pundits, politicians and experts while taking new ideas from wise people I respect.
I’ve planned my life carefully, but been willing to change directions when new possibilities arose. I’ve had four careers and enjoyed each.
Tacoma provides me with ongoing delight. It offers me a garden to manicure and a view that never fails to provide cheer. It ensures that I observe the natural world and marvel at its infinite variety.
Exercising like a maniac causes me to test my limits and ensures that I remain strong, resilient and capable of participating fully in life.
Lastly, I’ve mastered the ability to get beyond failure and slights, always assuming better things lie ahead.
Plunging into my eighth decade, I am grateful for the sense of happiness that informs my existence and hope that others can find their own path to similar satisfaction.
Stuart Grover lives in Tacoma and is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org