As we embrace the holidays in December, I want to take a backward glance and reflect on November, on autumn, on the harvest season and Thanksgiving. It is no surprise that my 75th birthday was a significant marking for me. I’ve always been the young one in the group. I’ve always tried to absorb the wisdom of older mentors and people who set a good example of what a well-lived life looked like close up. Looking up to people who have impeccable character inspires me to try to grow to become someone who lives an authentic life, inspired by the clear vision and example of fine, decent human beings who have made the world a better place.
This year, my 75th birthday coincided on our historic election. As the world was counting down the days before November 8th, focusing on Election Day 2016, I spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on my turning 75 and reviewing all the many stages and chapters in my enormously thrilling life so far, and my exuberance about how I choose to spend the next years as I enter the final quarter of a century. I am now the senior in the room, the grandmother, the elder. Of course there are many of my friends who are older whom I admire and cherish, but none of them are as close to me or as influential to my way of thinking and acting as those giant souls who have shaped my consciousness and directed the course of my life.
Before I leap into the sparkle and dazzle, the glitter and the wonder of December, I want to pay tribute to those people whom I love dearly who have died, and continue to live in me and through me. Love never dies, nor does goodness. There are great individuals who make huge contributions to the world that continue to be useful through those of us who are fortunate to have known them and are alive and eager to assume the responsibility to carry on their teachings. My love and deep devotion to Peter grows each day as I move forward in our deeply divided country and our deeply challenging world problems. But living intimately in Peter’s presence as I observed the way he handled crisis and dark times, he thoughtfully worked through things in his mind how he could help, and then he took action. I recall specifically immediately after September 11th, 2001, when he was President of the Riot Relief Fund, set up 150 years ago to give money and assistance to New York City police and fire fighters, with the larger contributions to the police department. But this crisis required reconsiderations and new thinking. Terrorism causes different problems and has to be responded to differently. Peter went to his board and several members were in far flung countries, but his organization were traditionally the first responders as they were 100% volunteer. He asked the board to agree to be equally generous to the firefighters families. There was resistance—fear it would drain the money they needed in reserve for future terrorist events. Peter, in his inimitable persuasive way, was able to argue his case and checks were immediately written to all the firefighters’ families, and a fire chief came to our New York apartment to pick up the red envelopes to distribute them immediately.
One of my treasured memories is of observing Peter seated at his desk writing handwritten letters to all the letters of thanks he received, and experiencing his compassion when the spouses would enclose a prayer card with a photograph of the firefighter or police officer in uniform.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I feel all my ruminating and reflecting on all the kindness that has so abundantly been showered toward me over all these years is continuing to make a difference to my sense of well-being and meaning in my studies and work in the enormously exciting field of happiness. Aristotle taught that the aim and purpose of life is happiness—the universal yearning for all of us. He taught us that in order to be happy we have to be good people. When we are good, we try to do whatever we can, in our own style and perspective, to make the world a better, more compassionate home for 7 billion fellow humans. All human flourishing depends on each one of us acting in everyone’s best interests. Each of us can focus on what we can do, and do whatever we need to do, to remain optimistic that our individual efforts can – and in time, will – make the world a healthier, happier planet for future generations. Being angry, or frustrated, frightened and discouraged, complaining about what’s wrong, paralyzes us, confusing our brain from functioning with clarity and purity of purpose.
May there be peace on earth and let it indeed begin with us. When we think of human beings who have helped us to think of love, peace, kindness and compassion, Jesus, Gandhi and the Buddha. I’m fortunate to have studied under His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Peter, and he is a vibrant force for good. His Holiness is five years older than I am and reminds me that because he has been teaching and preaching world peace all his life, when it is his time to die, he will be ready. The Dalai Lama has embraced the younger generations and encourages education to become impassionate, where we teach the mind to be more mindful of the heart where we focus on other’s well-being and share more of our resources. Rather than spending the last chapter of his life teaching Buddhism and the enlightenment offered through loving-kindness, altruism, compassion and empathy, he is now bonding with the scientists, research and technology to study happiness and how we can educate the emotions to respond rationally and reasonably to conflict and crisis, and to whatever is in our power to think of the greatest good for the greatest human flourishing.
Early in the morning of my big birthday, at breakfast, my daughter Alexandra surprised me and joined Brooke and Cooper. I thought I was seeing a mirage. I’ve never been so giddy happy because I had zero expectations of seeing her until way after the election she was covering around the clock, around the United States. The gift of my two daughter’s presence and my youngest granddaughter was a treasure I will keep in the center of my emotional bank and draw on my happiness account regularly. I was, in a word, overjoyed.
The outpouring of love and tenderness from my immediate family, friends, acquaintances and readers is so profoundly powerful. I’m deeply grateful and want to remind you how important each and every one of you are to my sense of purposefulness and satisfaction with the quality of my life.
I decided to celebrate the entire month of November and, as a result, I had the great blessings of being with loved ones in meaningful ways, which has brought me such profound joy I can’t adequately express my gratitude. All of you are making the world a safer, healthier, happier universal home and I’m grateful to be in your life and have you so important to my thriving. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
As a proud grandmother, Nicholas, Alexandra’s fifteen-year-old twin, won a national golf tournament in Maryland. He’s only been in high school a few months and his school didn’t qualify; he went as an individual, and as a freshman won the entire tournament for high school students—another fun reason to celebrate. How wonderful that Nick is so passionate about golf and so talented.
My heart is bursting with love. When friends gathered and I saw two candles “75” on a gloriously beautiful cake with blue hydrangea decorations with sparklers, I wept out of pure joy. How can anyone ask for more than to feel this grateful for these extraordinarily happy 75 years. We all put our rings on a large fork with many prongs and I made a hugely important wish for us all to blow out the candles.
I look forward to sharing the future years with you, and I hope I can be useful. My mentor, Mrs. Brown told me she would die when her usefulness is up, and she died five days shy of her 101st birthday. Please help me to remain optimistic, and do all the positive things that are possible in the time I have left. I long to continue to be deeply engaged as I’m stimulated by my work, deeply appreciative to you for your enormous contributions to my happiness.
Great love to you. Whatever ways you celebrate the holidays, may you feel the loving-kindness of good people all around the world. Thank you for being my teachers, and for sharing your wisdom and love so generously.