Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old

Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old

An extraordinary look at what it means to grow old and a heartening guide to well-being, Happiness Is a Choice You Make weaves together the stories and wisdom of six New Yorkers who number among the "oldest old"-- those eighty-five and up.In 2015, when the award-winning journalist John Leland set out on behalf of The New York Times to meet members of America's fastest-grow...

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Title:Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old
Author:John Leland
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Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old Reviews

  • Maggie

    My non-fiction favorite book of 2018. I don't think it's #1 spot will be challenged. An uplifting, perspective-shaking & beautiful examination of the lives of 6 people over the age of 85. I would like to read this every year of my life, to make sure the wisdom in it continues to sink in and stay with me. No book has made me feel more grateful for everything in life, and just life in general, no matter what I'm stressing about, and actually in spite of any negatives (and, actually, I sometime

    My non-fiction favorite book of 2018. I don't think it's #1 spot will be challenged. An uplifting, perspective-shaking & beautiful examination of the lives of 6 people over the age of 85. I would like to read this every year of my life, to make sure the wisdom in it continues to sink in and stay with me. No book has made me feel more grateful for everything in life, and just life in general, no matter what I'm stressing about, and actually in spite of any negatives (and, actually, I sometimes felt gratitude FOR the negatives). My favorite quote: "So often we measure the day by what we do with it--cure cancer or surf in Maui or meet with our child's math teacher--and overlook what is truly miraculous, which is the arrival of another day. Enjoy it or not. The day doesn't care, but if you miss it, it won't be back again."

  • Lynne Spreen

    is the account of a yearlong conversation between a New York Times journalist and six people who are among the “oldest old” in America. The journalist, John Leland, was 57 as of the the time of this writing, and going through his own challenges. He was hoping to learn from these elders, and to share his findings with us. He did both brilliantly.

    Leland writes with compassion, humor, and incisiveness. I knew I was home when, in the very beginning of the book, his el

    is the account of a yearlong conversation between a New York Times journalist and six people who are among the “oldest old” in America. The journalist, John Leland, was 57 as of the the time of this writing, and going through his own challenges. He was hoping to learn from these elders, and to share his findings with us. He did both brilliantly.

    Leland writes with compassion, humor, and incisiveness. I knew I was home when, in the very beginning of the book, his elderly interview subjects answered his questions with platitudes or reminiscing about their youth, but he didn't settle for that. "...I was interested in what their lives were like now...How did they get through the day, and what were their hopes for the morrow? How did they manage...Was there a threshold at which life was no longer worth living?" He also writes with humor which leavens the weight of the topic.

    This was my main takeaway: It seems regular old people, not heroes or geniuses, but just everyday elders, might come to some ways of being that are essential for a good end of days (and might enhance our younger years as well.) What they know looks simple on the outside, but there’s an underlying complexity that takes a lifetime to develop and that the elders may not even sense they have. To them, it’s just life.

    Random highlights:

    --Leland writes, “Old age is a concept largely defined by people who have never lived it.” In other words, youth sees age-related decline and either recoils in horror/grief or conjures mythic fallacies to explain it. Yet Lelend, reporting back from the foreign land of the ultra-aged, says it's neither. It’s just a development. You work around it and keep living. No big deal.

    --The olders aren’t really wise. They’re just so experienced at adaptation that they do it without thinking, which is actually sheer genius. If we youngers weren’t so busy celebrating 90-year-old marathoners and other such freaks of nature, we’d notice the greater lessons available from and for more average humans.

    --The way elders see themselves holds the key to peace about what we fear in aging. For example: “...all (of the olders) seemed to redraw the line between what was acceptable and what was too much, pushing it just past their level of disability. Health problems that looked devastating to me looked to them like a part of life’s progress after 85--what was truly bad was always a step down the road.”

    --Another example: We look at a widow and think, how horrible that she has to live every day knowing her husband is gone. But olders, while they may relive grief, spend more time remembering the good. And how often have we heard that memories from our early lives stay with us more clearly than the newer ones? What a blessing!

    --Another: youth might draw back in horror at the short time horizon elders know they have, but for elders, this shortened horizon enriches the enjoyment of the now. For youth, who may have a sprawling 50 years to live, they wonder which paths to take, how best to maximize their work, etc. They're tormented at every turn by critical decisions. In contrast, for elders, their time limitation serves as a tightly bundled blanket; comforting in a weird way. They don’t have to worry about moving to Los Angeles or freezing their eggs. They have only to maximize today.

    --Another: lack of a mate might seem like a relief rather than a tragedy. “I can serve my own needs; I don’t have to worry about or wait on anybody else. I have long blocks of time in which I can just think, or whatever.”

    --Another: loneliness, like grief, regret, or frustration, comes and goes. It doesn’t define them. And rather than feel lonely, some decline may occur in the desire or need to socialize. I'm generalizing, but that seems like it would be a relief.

    These are random observations from the book. If I tried to highlight all the passages I found profound or valuable, it’d be pages and pages long. I highly recommend this book.

  • Terri Suda

    Borrowed it from my public library, purchasing it for my permanent shelf as a reference and reminder to what's essential, important and true about living life well and in the moment. Loved every word and every lesson. Essential reading.

  • Ericka Clouther

    This is an interesting, thought-provoking book about old age and how to get the most quality of life. There is some science in it, but it's not a science-based book. Instead, it's based on a small number of long-term interviews. To a lesser extent, it's about facing the inevitability of death, but the focus here is on how to confront life now in order to be prepared for whatever form death takes. There are some valuable thoughts worth considering, and it has an overall inspiring tone I think a l

    This is an interesting, thought-provoking book about old age and how to get the most quality of life. There is some science in it, but it's not a science-based book. Instead, it's based on a small number of long-term interviews. To a lesser extent, it's about facing the inevitability of death, but the focus here is on how to confront life now in order to be prepared for whatever form death takes. There are some valuable thoughts worth considering, and it has an overall inspiring tone I think a lot of people would enjoy.

    For me, it doesn't go deep enough, it isn't scientific enough, and it doesn't make my top meaning-of-life books. (But it did just inspire me to go back and add that tag to a bunch of books.)

  • Rachel

    An enjoyable, contemplative look at what makes life worth living through the eyes of the oldest among us. Leland spent a year interviewing six elderly men and women, including his own aging mother. It’s powerful considering what keeps us going and what we can learn from the elderly.

  • Julie Barrett

    Solid 3 stars. I wanted to love this book but honestly, it wasn't anything too eye opening. Still enjoyable to read. Basically, what the author learned in a year of hanging out with 6 old people is carpe diem. In the words of Ram Dass, "be here now". Of course, that is easier said than done for many people, myself and the author included.

    One of the 6 people Leland follows does basically that when younger - always living in the moment - and he pays for it when he is elderly. Out of his 6 kids by

    Solid 3 stars. I wanted to love this book but honestly, it wasn't anything too eye opening. Still enjoyable to read. Basically, what the author learned in a year of hanging out with 6 old people is carpe diem. In the words of Ram Dass, "be here now". Of course, that is easier said than done for many people, myself and the author included.

    One of the 6 people Leland follows does basically that when younger - always living in the moment - and he pays for it when he is elderly. Out of his 6 kids by 4 women(never married) only 1 sometimes speaks to him, he didn't save any money for retirement(yet his city pension is too much for him to qualify for govt aid) and he didn't think ahead about his living arrangements and gets trapped living in an apartment on the top floor without an elevator. He is the Grasshopper in Aesop's fable The Ant & The Grasshopper. He's still an optimist and an extrovert when he is elderly but I found it hard not to shake my head in sorrow at the difficult position he found himself. I though, am more like the Ant so it's hard to comprehend his mindset.

    What I enjoyed most from this book was not the individual stories - though those were nice - but the research Leland did about aging in America. As a 50 year old with parents who turn 87 & 89 this year, I found the information presented very relevant and useful. I need to remind myself that "old age is not a problem to be fixed but a stage of life." My default reaction is to fix, push for change, overcome. "Medicine and lifestyle changes can delay the onset of problems in old age, not eliminate them." There is only so much one can do. Of course, what we can do - with medicine & lifestyle changes - is to add to the middle of life, instead of adding to the end of life. That is, we can prolong the healthy stage of life so the end - suffering & death - is shortened. The term for this is compression of morbidity. That is what I am aiming for!

    Leland writes about what the elderly think about as they look back on life. The questions one asks oneself when facing death. "How did my life matter?" "Was my time well spent?" "What can I look back upon with pride?" "What did I mean to others?" "Did I love the right people?" During his conversations over the year, none of the 6 really talked about work or money at all. It was all about relationships with others. It made me think of Harvard's Grant Study, a 75-year longitudinal study of 268 Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939–1944. The main takeaway from the study? That good relationships are the key to a happy life. Something to keep in mind as we all scurry to work in order to earn in order to consume. In the end it boils down to other people, not stuff.

  • Lesa

    At the beginning of 2015, John Leland, a journalist for the New York Times, embarked on a year-long project. He met with seniors to come up with six people to follow to learn from them about being old, and what it means today. The result was a series in the newspaper and the book, Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year among the Oldest Old.

    One of the fastest growing groups in the United States is those over the age of eighty-five. They're now called "the oldest old". Leland intervie

    At the beginning of 2015, John Leland, a journalist for the New York Times, embarked on a year-long project. He met with seniors to come up with six people to follow to learn from them about being old, and what it means today. The result was a series in the newspaper and the book, Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year among the Oldest Old.

    One of the fastest growing groups in the United States is those over the age of eighty-five. They're now called "the oldest old". Leland interviewed a number of people before he found the group he would visit with and follow. He picked three men and three women, some still living independently, and some in nursing homes. Although he thought he would observe and write about them for the paper, he found himself learning how to live. With a marriage that had just ended, a mother in that age group, and a health issue, Leland learned how much he had to learn.

    Some of the information he uncovered confirmed expectations, while he was surprised by some of his discoveries. While married couples had longevity, he was surprised that widows lived just as long, making new friends and making new lives. But widowers, on average, lived shorter lives than married men. Leland thought the seniors lived longer lives, but at a loss of quality. What he learned is most of the seniors were satisfied with their quality of life, even if they had poor health. He discovered his lessons were "seminars less in aging than in living".

    The lessons are worth quoting. "Each elder had different lessons to teach: from Fred, the power of gratitude; from Ping, the choice to be happy; from John, acceptance of death; from Helen, learning to love and be needed; from Jonas, living with purpose; and from Ruth, nourishing the people who matter."

    If you read Leland's book, you'll meet all six of those elders, and a few of their family members. You'll encounter their memories, and their present. And, that's most important. Most of the elders are present for their current life. Only one of them dwells on the past because he had a long, contented life and he was ready to move on.

    In the end, Leland learned a lesson we should all accept. "The elders' gift to me was a simple one: a reminder that time is both limited and really amazing." There are lessons in this book for all of us, but that sentence does sum up John Leland's Happiness is a Choice You Make.

  • Rachel Blakeman

    I'm not sure why I bothered finishing this book. Would have been a great long form article but as a book it dragged on and felt like the lessons got lost along the way. Also didn't feel like I got much new insight about the wisdom of oldest of the old. It did however remind to appreciate my time with both my own grandmothers, with one living until 91 and the other until 101. I miss them but they live on our families' memories.

  • Terry Mensching

    my mother once said; "who wants to live to 90?" answer; "an 89 year old." What I got out of this book is; If you live a long time, you know how to do it regardless of your circumstances

    Loved it..

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