Happy As Larry by Ian Lawton

August 18th, 2015

be outrageously happy when you grow up 2Larry’s been visiting more often lately. But he’s not what I expected him to be. He doesn’t grin from ear to ear or skip down the street. He’s more contentment than carnival clown, more acceptance than ecstasy.

I don’t think it’s just me. I think it’s got something to do with aging. People of age (the latest annoying PC term) have changing hopes and expectations.

Happy for me these days is a hot bath at home, not a hot tub in Cabo. Give me a night in front of TV with my family, and I’m happier than a pig in mud.

If you’re a person of age, or even just a person of middle age, this is for you. Life is looking up, for good reason. It’s not so much that being happy makes you live longer. Its that the longer you live, the happier you become. Here’s 5 reasons why;

1. Reality Bites
When we’re young we want to be Larry Bird, flying high, or Larry Page, changing the world.  As we age, we resonate more with Larry the Cable Guy who once said he’s “happier than a tornado in a trailer park!” Now there’s a twist on happiness. We change perspective as we age.

  • At age 4 happiness is…not peeing your pants.
  • At age 12 happiness is…having friends.
  • At age 16 happiness is…having a drivers license.
  • At age 20 happiness is…having sex.
  • At age 30 happiness…having money.
  • At age 60 happiness is…having sex.
  • At age 70 happiness is…having a drivers license.
  • At age 75 happiness is…having friends.
  • At age 80 happiness is…not peeing  your pants.

When I was young I could pull an all-nighter and get on with the day. Now I wake up feeling like the morning after, and I didn’t even leave the house. But I take satisfaction in sleeping a few hours, waking up, rolling out of bed and eventually getting up off the floor.

When young, ambition and possibility makes us happy. When we age, we tend to look for simpler pleasures. Don’t get me wrong. We need young people with ideals to get things done in the world. Their drive for gain and ambition is healthy and necessary. But elation is not the only form of happy.

As we get older, many illusions (grandeur and immortality to name just two) fade, and we find happiness in reality’s perspective. We’ve been knocked down too many times, and fought too hard for where we are and what we’ve got to be distracted by illusions. Happiness is here and now.

2. Larry and his Friends
Happy tends to travel with an entourage. These are the experiences that signal happiness’s arrival. For the young the entourage includes excitement, elation and high energy. For people of age, it includes peace, calm, honesty and steady energies like acceptance. The point is to know what to look for, and maybe not expect happiness to show up the same way right through life.

act age









3. The Pursuit of Happy
When we’re young, we’re usually in hot pursuit of happiness. It lies ahead, and the chase is thrilling. As we slow down, partly by necessity, we stop chasing what lies ahead and find joy in what is at hand; simple daily pleasures and the satisfaction of resilience

I read an account of ALS from a man named Neil Selangor, a retired lawyer, who joined a writer’s group after retiring, and found his writing voice. Two years later, ALS took hold of his life. But this is what he said,

as my muscles weakened, my writing became stronger

as i slowly lost my speech, i gained my voice

as I diminished, I grew

as I lost so much, I finally began to find myself.

This is the sort of resilience that brings happiness, despite the circumstances, as you age.

4. Experience More Than Things

We seek to accumulate people and experiences more than things as we age. Neil Gaiman said it well,

There are things I miss about being younger – chiefly the ability to pull all-nighters and keep working and working well; and being smiled at by girls I didn’t know who thought I was cute; and I wish I had the eyesight I had even five years ago… but that stuff feels pretty trivial.

I’m happier than I’ve been at any time in my life these days. I have a wonderful wife whom I adore, watched three amazing kids grow into two delightful adults and my favourite teenager, an astonishing number of grand life experiences, I’ve made art I’m proud of, I have real, true, glorious friends, and I’ve been able to do real good for things I care about, like freedom of speech, like libraries.

passport stuff

5. Meaning and Significance
As a person mid-life, I notice that I seek meaning where I used to crave significance. Ten years ago, gaining 100,000 twitter followers made me happy because it felt significant. Now I give little thought to how many people “follow” or even notice what I say. It’s satisfying to me if I can express thoughts that feel meaningful on issues that matter. Honesty makes me happy. Not pretending makes me happy. Being real is my new ecstasy.

The chase is mostly over and I couldn’t be happier. Well I probably could. Maybe Larry visits people of even greater age in new and even more astonishing ways. Time will tell.

But it doesn’t even matter. No form of happy is better or worse than any other. They’re all exactly what they need to be.

So it makes me happy to share these thoughts with you, to encourage people of age to experience life just as it is for you, without shame or regret.

One last thought. A church pastor once asked his congregation if anyone had forgiven all their enemies. One lone hand shot up, an elderly lady up the back.

“Mrs. Neely, that is amazing. How old are you?”
“Ninety-eight,” she replied.
The congregation stood up and applauded.

“Mrs. Neely, please come down the front and share your secret with the rest of us. How have you forgiven all your enemies?”
“I don’t have any,” she replied, smiling sweetly.

“Oh wow, how a person can live ninety-eight years and not have an enemy in the world?”

The sweet looking lady smiled to the congregation, and said, “I outlived the lot of them.”

Now that makes me smile. You?

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  1. Denise says:

    It amazes me how spot on your emails are to what’s going on in my life! I’ve been struggling with aging. I’m 44, still feel 30, but definitely don’t look like I’m 30. I never thought getting older would be difficult but it is and I’ve noticed my happiness being replaced, at times, by some sadness and resentment. I’ve been trying to come to terms with it but have a hard time making sense of my feelings and am not ready to accept I’m 44 and I’m not going to live forever. I really appreciate your words as they help me to put some clarity or resolve in my own life and feelings.

    On another note, my 13 yr. old, my first born, is a sweet and kind kid who is shy and insecure due to so many crazy experiences (speech delay due to illnesses from 2-6; encomprises due to antibiotics from illnesses that lasted up until 12, etc). He’s my gentle giant , at 6’5″ and 189lbs! Today he had a back to school party and I watched him sit alone and not engage. After the party he said he doesn’t care about anything and wished he was happy and why was he here. My heart broke in half and is still hurting but I am looking forward to reading what you wrote with him. I hope it helps shed some light and answer some questions/give him something to ponder while he navigates through life. Thank you’

  2. Eileen says:

    I pose this question:  What is the difference between contentment and happiness?

  3. Denise says:

    I believe contentment is when you have inner peace which can give you the “happy” feeling,; however, you no longer need to be “happy” to feel satisfied or “full”. to be happy On the other hand, happiness is an euphoric emotion that is fleeting. Everyone strives to be happy and will search for things or people to make them feel happy, but, searching outside of your own self and/or filling up on stuff or people is bound to disappoint and then what. That’s when a person realizes to stop looking everywhere else and to start breathing and appreciating life, friends, family, the sun rising, etc.

  4. Effie says:

    Your words ring so true for me. At 57, gone are the days I would have partied all night and then woken up all  raring to go. My life and priorities have shifted with each passing decade. Ten years ago, I almost died of a brain aneurysm, so I have already faced my mortality. I know I’m not going to live forever, but the aneurysm taught me to live in the nano-moment. To Eileen’s question of the difference between contentment and happiness: my own take on that is that the goal is to live a life of balance and contentment most of the time, with moments of sheer joy and happiness. I have no idea what the next stage of my life will look like. I am twice divorced with adult sons in their mid-thirties, so I can finally just live for just me. My life is very simple and I am content most of the time. I do experience moments of joy. So I can say, from my soul, that I”m having the time of my life.

  5. ian says:

    Great comments, thanks all. I can’t add much to the comments about contentment. Some great wisdom there. In terms of aging, I think happiness comes from contentment. There is a saying, “while we pursue happiness, we flee from contentment.” Like everything it’s a balance. Love and contentment to all.

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