Audrey Parkinson and Ros Stephenson share their secrets of happiness. Photo / Tania Whyte
How to stay happy? What is the key to long-term joy and pleasure? Paul Little asks the over 80s for their secrets of joy.
The search for the key to happiness is old and ongoing, and there is no shortage of theories about it. Amazon lists 715 books with the words “key” and “happiness” in their titles.
You might expect the secret to be found in the teachings of someone like the Dalai Lama – rarely seen without a smile on his carefree face. Everyone knows you can’t buy happiness, but people keep trying. Perhaps this prevents us from doing deep self-analysis and reflection?
You certainly wouldn’t expect to find the answer in Forbes magazine’s business publication, citing a study from Harvard University that said – spoiler alert – “Happiness comes from choosing to be happy with whatever you do. , strengthening your closest relationships and taking care of physically, financially and emotionally”.
The Herald on Sunday set out to verify these results against the experiences of five members of the over-79 generation, all residents of the Jane Mander Retirement Village in Whāngarei. Although their answers are consistent with the Harvard study, it should be noted that this is not blind optimism, but a hard-won outlook on life that, in any case, takes into account the very real sorrows they have experienced – and overcome.
GLORIA HAMILTON, 79
“Think of Popeye and say ‘boop-boop’.”
Gloria has always worked hard. Born in Auckland, she grew up in Whāngarei and Kaikohe. When she was a child, her mother had five male boarders, and it was Gloria’s job to “help with the tea and help with the ironing and make the beds in the morning before school”. She had ambitions to be a teacher but was told the family could not afford it, so she was sent to Burroughs Business School, where she learned accounting. She married at 21 – and is still married – to Gary, who also lives with Jane Mander.
After her marriage, she continued to work to the point that it affected her health. “I used to work at a dairy company in Northland and I had depression.
“I was doing accounts payable. I was doing accounts for dairy farms. And I was doing accounts for Keri orange juice, and all the transportation and stock. And I ended up in the hospital. One of the young came up to me and said, ‘You might like to know that your work has been divided into three parts’.”
Now, said Gloria, she is resting. But that doesn’t mean she’s idle. Craftsmanship is a passion. She finds happiness in the simple pleasure of doing things with a group of like-minded souls. “We started by making sacks of wheat. And then there was the big call for masks. So we made masks. We sold them to make money for charity. And now we We made swim bags. We made table runners for the tables.”
Gloria’s basic philosophy on happiness was inherited from her grandfather: “He told me when I was little, ‘You are who you are. That’s all. So just be happy and do it. . here we go’.”
ROBIN BAGSHAW, 81
“We swap stories over a beer every Tuesday and Thursday.”
Robin was an all-purpose, old-school community newspaper – reporter, photographer and editor, and sports editor for the Northern News for 20 years.
He’s faced his fair share of life’s knocks. There’s a litany of health worries that could have wiped out an inferior mind, and his wife, Yvonne (who’s also at Jane Mander) has her own health issues. They had two sons, one of whom died in his early twenties.
Robin now finds joy in connecting other people, old friends and friends he made in the retirement village.
“I have an English buddy and he’s been here for 13 years,” says Robin. “We swap stories over a beer every Tuesday and Thursday. And then on Saturday night I have another group of friends.”
As a journalist, Robin says, he was always used to sitting in a bar and talking.
“People come and go. They die. And then new people come in. When the last group of people came in, this lady sat down and we said, ‘Hello, Jessie’. She said, ‘Oh, Hello Robin. Hello, Yvonne.” And I said, ‘Did you realize you were at our wedding 60 years ago?’ She and her late husband were at our wedding in Whāngarei.
“All of these people here are good friends. I’m enjoying every minute I can. If you don’t go and participate, you might as well get on your bed and lay down and die.”
BRIAN ANDREWS, 90
“Go for it.”
Born in Ōtorohanga, Brian spent 50 of his 90 years in the North. He drove trucks and trailers, built and ran gas stations, and had a successful cafe in Whāngarei – “hard work, but very rewarding”. His secret to happiness could be described as “optimistic stoicism”.
As a child, growing up in the countryside, he learned a valuable lesson: “Go for it. We were born during the depression and we went through a horrible war. When things happened, you fixed them. You feel sorry for yourself for about 24 hours, then you just have to find a solution.”
Brian actively participated in the life around him: “If your children are in school, you are involved. If you are in agriculture, you are involved in Federated Farmers and dairy companies. Life goes on and you have to go on with it.”
The lessons that were very useful to him were inculcated very early: “I was a child on a farm. There was no point in saying: ‘I have nothing to do’. At 13, I had a I was in charge of the draft horse. We had five draft horses and I had one that I had to take care of. It had to be done. We had to learn how to harness them and how to harness them well. We were busy as hell. ‘hell.”
He was inspired by his parents’ generation: “My father was probably the greatest father in the world. But I never remember him hiding or hugging me. brave little soldier and I continued.”
ROS STEPHENSON, 92
“You have to go halfway or more to meet people.”
“What makes me happy?” Ros asks. “Just people, and what they do and what they say.” She was born in Staffordshire and her parents died young – her mother at 52 and her father at 63.
In 1963 Ros and her husband John, who died 20 years ago, moved to Auckland. Moving around the world was a challenge. “We had lived in London for eight years, which I loved. I missed it. Everywhere you went there was something to see.” Ros says she was amazed when she first saw Auckland’s busiest thoroughfare, Queen St, to see how empty it was.
She also found the transition to Jane Mander a challenge at first. “I’ve been here for seven years. I thought it would drag on, but it’s gone… For the first few weeks, I felt a bit weird, because I didn’t know anyone. Now most of We know each other. , which is great. You have to go halfway or more to meet people. There are wonderful characters.”
Ros’ joy comes from having regained an old-fashioned sense of community, much like the days when neighbors knew each other, socialized and supported each other. “You go anywhere and there will at least be someone to smile at you and say hello,” she says.
AUDREY PARKINSON, 103
You need to talk to Audrey, everyone else interviewed for this story said – “she’s just amazing”. She is too and is very happy with it.
“My brother, my sister, my mother and my aunt all died at 95,” says Audrey, who was born in Whāngarei in 1919. “So when I turned 95, I thought, ‘Well, that there is. But I’m here.” She moved to the retirement village ten years ago. Although she will never see the doubles again, Audrey is a hardy, independent spirit, and has been for a long time.
“I left school when I was too young – 13 years and nine months – and served as nanny to a little boy and then waitress at the Marble Bar on Cameron St in Whāngarei.
“I’ve had good health all my life and I still have it. There’s nothing wrong with my brain. No hearing aids. I have glasses, but I can read the newspaper without them. if I need it.” She also avidly reads fiction, citing “blood and thunder westerns” as her favorite genre.
Although she married in 1944, “I never had children – it’s the saddest thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s one of those things. You take it that way come.”
It is this fatalistic attitude that seems to be at the origin of his joy: “I keep myself busy and I just make the effort to box despite everything.”
At what age are humans the happiest?
In 2015, international scientists analyzed a stack of studies and determined that although levels were high for 18 to 21 year olds, they fell markedly over the next two decades, before beginning a rise from 18 to 21. ‘mature age. The all-time happy high? According to this research, he was 98 years old.
Studies specific to New Zealand reveal a similar picture. Well-being data shows that older people, aged 65 and over, are more likely to report higher ‘life satisfaction’ rates than other age groups.
According to the most recent figures available from Statistics NZ (from March quarter 2021), when people were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with life on a scale of 0 to 10, the following groups reported higher than average rates:
• people aged 65 and over (8.3)
• people living in rural areas (8.1) compared to urban areas (7.9)
• those who are not in the labor force because they are retired (8.4)
• those who have practically no chance of losing their job in the next 12 months (8.2).
Meanwhile, the latest World Happiness Report has once again confirmed a top 10 ranking for Aotearoa. This year, the 10th anniversary of the global study, which asserts that “the true measure of progress is the happiness of the people”, placed New Zealand 10th on its list. Finland took first place, followed by Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway and Israel. The least happy places on the planet were Botswana, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Lebanon and, lastly, Afghanistan.
– additional reporting, Kim Knight.