The yins and yangs of a happy life

There is a popular belief in the world (I’ve heard it is attributed to Chinese philosophy, but I won’t assert that as fact) that one-third of things that will happen to you in your life’s journey are sad and sorrowful and that two-thirds, by comparison, are happy and joyous. There is also a belief that with great sorrow there is great reward – the lower the valley, the higher the next peak. And that brings me to a short list of Thanksgiving musings.

I’m honestly thankful (today) that for one-third of my life, my family was destitute. I don’t mean “poor,” I mean dirt poor, as in walking on dirt floors (I remember when the floor was covered with wood and then tiles, when I was in kindergarten). We had a pot-bellied coal stove, an outhouse and outdoor pump, and little food in the cupboards. I’m thankful for that experience because, today, “success” for me is the assurance that I can go grocery shopping whenever the mood strikes me. I don’t hoard food (my mother did; in her later, more “successful” years, Mom hoarded food and shoes). Still, buying groceries feels like a privilege, even all these many years later.

I’m thankful for an education. That wasn’t guaranteed or even expected, though it was always my dream and intention. I was the first in our family ever to attend college, and I was only able to do so after a state senator gave me a scholarship two years out of high school, when I was working in a factory making Lawn-Boy lawnmowers (Outboard Marine) in Galesburg, Ill. (Not everyone can borrow money from parents to go to college.) What a miracle that escape was!

Someone once asked why I didn’t just work summer jobs to save for college. Well, because I was employed year-round from the age of 12 to be able to buy my clothes and to help my parents pay the bills for our family of six. The occasional discretionary quarter allowed me a night at the skating rink wearing my precious used skates. And so my degree means a great deal to me today, and I’m especially thankful for a solid education.

I’m especially thankful for my children’s and grandchildren’s well-being. As many of you know, my son Daniel died at age 16 in a car accident. Today, daughter Brook is a Chicago cop; she also served in the Middle East during the Iraq War as a military police officer. I’ve had my share of frights and fears for all of my children’s safety over the years, and so I appreciate the quiet moments spent talking to adult kids on the phone. When they are out of my sight, it’s a relief to reach them by phone – if for no other reason than to assure myself that they are all, at that moment in time, safe and accounted for. I don’t take their lives or futures for granted.

 

I’m thankful to be married to a good man who believes “love” is a verb, and who goes out of his way to be kind and supportive. We met later in life, after we’d both had other (more convoluted) marriage experiences. In hindsight, we’re glad for all of the (deep) water under our bridges; it left us appreciative of the opportunity to finally marry a best friend and declare our home together to be a “No Drama Zone.”

I’m also thankful for my job, though I’ve been employed every day of my adult life. I know it is the reason I needed college, it’s the reason I can afford those groceries, and it’s the reason I can buy my grandchildren new skates and help their college funds, too. Whoever said that money doesn’t help buy happiness was rich.

And last, but not least, I’m thankful for my friends and for you, my extended family of readers. There is no God if there are no worshippers; there is no dictator if there are no followers, no doctor if no patients, and no writers if there are no readers. Thank you for supporting our work at In Business with your attention to the work and events we produce.

I hope that, for at least two-thirds of your life, you will fully enjoy and appreciate your many wonderful and mundane blessings, as I do mine, and that the other third of your life is made kinder and gentler by the loves in your life.

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click hereIf you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.