Many of the people I interviewed for my new book “Being Happy Matters” (beinghappymatters.life) told me that health – or more particularly, the ability to enjoy good health – has a great influence on personal happiness.
Well, we don’t always get to control our health totally, but we do get to manage our happiness.
Cheryl Wright is a lady who knows this all too well.
I interviewed Cheryl as she sat at home in Dingley Village, an outer suburb of Melbourne, Australia. In her 50s, 5’7” with brown hair, she’s a lady who’s comfortable in her own skin.
“I’m very laid back,” she told me. Sitting on her back deck overlooking the garden and enjoying an iced chocolate (she declares with a smile, “It’s my only vice. I don’t drink, smoke, take drugs – except by prescription – or gamble), Cheryl told me, “I’m not ecstatically happy, but I’m not miserable either. And it doesn’t take a lot for me to be over the moon.”
Think about that statement for a moment. And then, put it into context as you listen to Cheryl describe her life.
“I have a lung condition called Bronchiectasis,” she explains. “It’s from contracting measles as a one-year-old. Basically my airways don’t open properly which causes recurrent infections. It’s a bit yucky to describe, but bottom line is the mucus can’t be expelled properly. It’s in the same family as Cystic Fibrosis. But it isn’t usually a death sentence like CF.”
Birds and pelicans dot the sky from the nearby waterway as she speaks. I’m rendered somewhat speechless since, as the reality of her condition confronts me, I’m fascinated by how Cheryl can rate herself so high in the happiness department. But then I realize her description is not finished.
“As a result of the Bronchiectasis, I have a major immune deficiency,” she continues. “That means pneumonia is my enemy. One year I had five pneumonias in six months and ended up in the intensive care unit, in a wheelchair, and on oxygen. My immune system works at one third of normal, and I have a transfusion every four weeks to boost it. I’ve been doing that for the last several years and will continue doing so for the rest of my life.”
My head is spinning. I count my lucky stars for being the healthy specimen I am. But then Cheryl reveals why this sentence that she endures has led to a state of contentment. “When you’ve had a brush or two with death, life takes on a very precious quality. As a baby, I nearly died after someone flicked their cigarette ash in my cot and started a fire. Later on, many years ago, I was told by doctors I’d be dead in six months. So what did I do? I made sure I wasn’t. I was 43 at the time, and had six grandchildren who were all four and under. I wasn’t about to give in. My parents had a motto that if you tried, even if you failed, you succeeded, simply because you did try. I’ve carried that philosophy throughout my life.”
Indeed, a great philosophy: If you try, even if you fail, you succeed, simply because you did try. The reality is, however, that the positivism of Cheryl’s parents failed to support them in their own lives: each died from lung cancer. And further illustrating how good health is not always ours to control, Cheryl tells me that her brother was born with Spina Bifida, a challenge to the whole family (she has a sister as well), and one that brought with it a great deal of strain for everyone. Sadly, he died at age 12.
Amazingly, through all of this, her well-being – or lack of it – does not seem to impact her ability to be happy. “My health is shot to pieces,” she explains. “This lung disease is slowly progressing over time. Believe me, if health was the deciding factor for happiness, I’d be out of the running!”
I’m about to ask a follow-up question when Cheryl recalls an “ingredient” she feels is relevant to her life. “Hubby and I are bringing up three of our six grandchildren who were victims of domestic violence. One has post-traumatic stress disorder, one has anxiety and the other depression. They are aged 11, 9, and 8.”
“Cheryl, hold on!” I’m almost begging her to stop, so taken aback at the level of misfortune I’m learning about. “Look at what you’ve just shared with me. Omigosh, your life, for some people… it would be considered absolutely gruesome.” She nods in agreement. “Yet something keeps you smiling, Cheryl. What is it that finally does the trick for you?”
“A lot seems to boil down to state of mind,” she tells me calmly. “If you allow yourself to be dragged down, you will suffer as a result. I believe relationships play a big part in happiness. If, for instance, your marriage is on the rocks, you would probably be very unhappy. If those around you are unhappy, you will also be dragged down to their level. Keeping yourself positive – even in adverse situations – can play a big part in happiness.”
Think about that. I mean, the simplicity of the thought: “A lot seems to boil down to state of mind. If you allow yourself to be dragged down, you will suffer as a result. Keeping yourself positive – even in adverse situations – can play a big part in happiness.”
You can read more about Cheryl Wright in “Being Happy Matters” (this is the soon-to-be-published, updated version of my former book, “Why Being Happy Matters”). But the takeaway is that mind-over-matter, that key attitude that can affect so much of what we do and who we are, is an answer that’s free to anyone wanting to put forth a bit of effort in sustaining happiness.