Go through life with a smile
By R.S. Karunaratne
We smile when we meet our friends. However, we do not smile when we see someone unknown to us. Anyway, there are different kinds of smiles. Paul Ekman has identified 18 of them. A miserable smile pastes over an unhappy expression, like a grin-and-bear-it comment on feeling dismal. A cruel smile shows that the person relishes being angry and mean. The supercilious smile was Charlie Chaplin’s hallmark which draws on a muscle most people cannot move deliberately – a smile, as Ekman puts it, that “smiles at smiling.”
Can you go through life with a smile? Yes, only if you are happy. It is strange but true that the longer you live, the more likely you will be able to become a happier person. Research shows that happiness inhibits a U-shaped curve in a person’s lifespan. We are happy during childhood as we get everything we desire. Even in old age most of us are happy as we are self-satisfied. In early childhood, however, happiness levels steadily decrease. In middle age our happiness levels are on the rise again.
From our 20s up to 40s we work long hours to earn money, and put up a house. During this time, most of us get married and begin to raise children. We educate our children and are worried about their future. We find it difficult to enjoy happiness amidst all such responsibilities. By the time we retire, most of us have solved many pressing problems in life. Our children have completed their education and are now gainfully employed. Some of them have got married and have their own children. You may be getting a monthly pension or you may have saved some money for a rainy day. Sometimes your children are in a position to help you financially.
Ups and downs
By the time you reach 60s you may have encountered many ups and downs in life. As a young man you had high hopes but they never materialised. On looking back, however, you think life has not been unkind to you. You are optimistic that some good may come out of a bad situation. Elderly people know how to put life events in perspective and become happy. You will soon reap the benefits of your positive attitude to life.
Old people have a few trustworthy friends. You discuss your problems with them and find solutions. If you have spent a normal life, you will have a number of friends you can turn to in times of distress. You can easily turn to your children and in-laws for financial and moral support. Some of them will be more than willing to help you to solve your problems.
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark says, “Satisfaction with relationships is the strongest predictor of happiness we have. It comes up in happiness data all the time. Latest research shows that married people who have lived with their partners are happier than unmarried people who are likely to be lonely. You need someone to share your thoughts, pleasures and pains or even to have an occasion fight!
According to research, marriage gives a long-term boost to happiness. Although some degree of unhappiness may creep into you in midlife, it may not be pronounced among married couples. This is because people consider their spouses as their trusted friends. More research is continuing to examine the role of happiness during marriage and friendship.
When you reach your old age, it is quite natural for you to have disagreements with your partner. However, unlike young lovers, you are not ready to get rid of your husband or wife. An old female friend confessed, “I realise I am actually happy and not just staying in the relationship because we have invested so much time and energy together.”
People who are engaged in some kind of work are generally happier than those who are idling. Some type of work such as working as a freelance journalist or an insurance agent can bring you a little income. Even if there is no income, work gives you immense satisfaction. When you are busy doing something you will not feel the time passing.
All the young people will grow old and retire from their respective activities. Retirement is not something to be afraid of because it will enhance happiness in most adults. As De Neve says, “One is related to being able to do more, because the work-life balance shifts more to life. There is more time for leisure now. People also start adopting their expectations which may have been overly high when you started out. You accept the outcome of your life.”
The major obstacles to happiness in old age are illness and disability. Even young people are subject to them. With proper medical care you should be able to look after yourself. Temporary or permanent loss of eyesight or hearing is a challenge you have to face. They will bring new insights and appreciation of life.
If you are a positive thinker, the problems associated with old age may not appear as life-threatening. As geriatric specialist Ligia Dominguez at the University of Palermo says most elderly people are gifted with resilience. They are able to cope with health problems either independently or with the help of family members. Successful ageing may well be that optimistic older adults have the ability to cope with the curve balls of life.
Psychologists have given us some tips to remain happy. Their first advice is for you to adjust your attitude. This is a very simple formula. If you cannot control what is happening around you, you can control how you react. Always try to see the positive side of events. Then you do not have to complain of being unhappy.
When you live with your spouse for several decades, familiarity can breed contempt. It can lead to tension and unhappiness. If you change your attitude, you can treat your spouse as a friend. Then you will be able to solve many problems. Focus on what you already have and do not worry about what you do not have. If you are confined to a wheelchair, be happy that you are not suffering from dementia. An optimistic person will always find something positive to remain happy. Be grateful to your children, friends and well-wishers for their support. Gratefulness is a positive attitude. Always look for the small pleasures of daily life.
When you retire, try to give back what you have learned. Teach what you know to deserving children. Get involved in charity work. Go through life with a smile until the curtain falls.