On Happiness

Vintage gnome-elves that Frances passed along to us-- they make us so happy! :-)

My spirited and wise next door neighbor Frances Maciel passed away a couple weeks ago. Ian and Lil Dude and I adored her.  She was like an abuelita—a grandmother—to Lil Dude.  She called him her ‘jito (little son) – they would sit together on the comfy astroturf porch of her flamingo-pink-trimmed house and munch on nuts together, chatting and laughing.  She made us many tamales over the years, and regaled us with funny stories about her life here in our ‘hood, sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish.

Lil Dude and I visited her at the rest home the day before she had the massive stroke that led to her death a few days later. That day, she held my hand tightly in her hand, gnarled with arthritis.  With shiny eyes, she looked at me intently, and said, “Life is beautiful. Be happy.  Don’t waste life being angry.”  She repeated those words, over and over. “Life is beautiful.  Be happy.”  I squeezed her hand and looked into her eyes and promised to take her advice.


This morning, Lil Dude woke up in a grumpy mood. At breakfast, he moaned, “Why is everyone being mean to me?”

Ian and I had to suppress our smiles, because just yesterday Lil Dude woke up in a joyful mood and kept exclaiming, “Wow! Why is everyone being so nice to me?!”

This morning, I tried to explain to him (in five-year-old boy language) that this was all about his perception.  He felt grumpy, so it seemed that the world was being mean today… but actually, Daddy and I were treating him just the same as yesterday morning. The difference was his mood, his perception.

I thought of Frances’ words.  I told Lil Dude that happiness is a choice. We can choose to be happy.  And one magic trick to becoming happy is to make a list of things that make you happy, things you’re thankful for.  So we made a list: “The snow is awesome.  I get to wear my snow pants and boots today.  Our house is cozy with our Christmas tree. I had yummy waffles for breakfast…”

And it worked.  He smiled.  He changed his mood to happy and the world became nice to him again.

For most of us, choosing happiness is a skill we must develop and practice, so why not start young rather than waiting till your deathbed?   A pallative nurse, Bronnie Ware, recorded the epiphanies of her dying patients in her blog Inspiration and Chai. She found that one of the top five regrets of dying people is:  I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Bonnie writes, “Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice… Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”

I promise myself to take Frances’ advice to be happy, to remember that life is beautiful.  I will honor this, and I will continue to teach her ‘jito to choose happiness, too.  

And, dear reader, may you choose happiness in your own beautiful life as well…

Rest in beauty and happiness, querida vecina Frances.