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.
Women's history month
and just for fun...
The newspaper headline says it all:
“I’m a new Canadian, now let’s ditch the King”.
Sasha Akhavi writes, “Born and raised in a country south of here that bases much of its identify on having rejected the British monarchy, I recently had the honour of taking the oath of Canadian citizenship.”
He goes on to point out that the celebratory occasion “substantially centred around pledging allegiance to the same monarchy I was raised to abhor. I am now a faithful subject to King Charles III — but I do not wish to be. My first act of Canadian citizenship is to call upon my MP to support severing governmental ties between Canada and the British monarchy.”
OK. Sasha understands, as do I, that getting all the provinces to agree on reforms about the Head of State office can be demanding. But if countries like Barbados and Jamaica can free themselves from British colonialism, and knowing that more than half of our fellow citizens now want out too, I’d say it can be done.
So King Charlie, you languish on in the UK where they still care about the monarchy, but those of us who no longer do, see ya!
More on Guido
I think most of us, when we pass on from this planet, would like to leave some small thing of value behind. (For me, it’s the books that I write: I hope people continue to find inspiration in my words that cause them to seek higher values in their lives.)
Guido Basso – that marvelous horn player who died so suddenly earlier this week – was a wonderful showman who was the figurehead for many, many years in the annual Jazz Cruise. Those if us close to him agree that he would not want these annual events to come to an end without him being there to guide us. And so, here’s to Mike Murley (saxophone) and Heather Bambrick (vocals) for picking up the baton and agreeing to be the leaders for carrying on with the Jazz Cruise. Yes, we’ll all miss Guido. But with Murles and Heather leading the way, the standards Guido set will be maintained. And that’s a good thing.
Can it be?
Has the amazing Guido Basso, that mainstay of jazz in Canada, died?
I was contacted earlier today with news that he had passed, and I’m still shocked. It seems like only yesterday we were enjoying his wonderful flugelhorn playing on the annual Jazz Cruise, this time on the Pacific Ocean out of LA. Guido played beautifully, along with Mike Murely (sax), Steve Wallace (bass), Lee Wallace (guitar), Barry Elmes (drums) and Heather Bambrick (vocals). It was on that same cruise that Guido and I talked about him being involved in the film that will be made about Ruth Lowe based on my book, “Until I Smile At You”.
But now he’s gone. He was 85. Too soon.
Guido Basso was a Member of the Order of Canada. He kept big band music on high in a career that lasted more than 65 years. I remember him first as a charter member of Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, but he also worked as a musical director for TV programs and played with legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. It was Guido who said, “You attack the trumpet, but you make love to a flugelhorn.” And man, did he do that in style!
Guido leaves his lovely wife, Kristin who said he went “so quickly and so peacefully.”
Can it truly be?
down with sunwing
Wanting to miss out on a bit of winter, my lady and I recently stayed at a resort in the Caribbean. We had arranged this as part of an al-inclusive package from Sunwing. If you have the opportunity to do so, don’t.
Our flight there was fine. On the other hand, our return flight timings changed several times (OK: we dealt with that, as you do, even though other Sunwing customers seemed less enthused). The flight back was fine. We even persevered through the crazy walk and bus ride from wherever Sunwing has to land these days at Toronto’s airport, to Terminal 3. But on clearing customs and being directed to a carousel to pick up our luggage, we were forced to wait more than an hour before any bags started arriving. With hundreds of people standing around, there was no explanation for why this was happening.
After the bags started coming down the chute, there was an announcement made moving us to a different carousel. So off the hundreds of us went. But that was followed by yet another announcement moving us go to yet another baggage carousel. Still, there were no bags for us or for a lot of other people. On searching the area, it became apparent Sunwing does not even have a desk there as most other airlines do: who do you talk to if your luggage doesn’t show up? Who do you talk to if you want information?
“I’m never going with Sunwing again!!” became the common theme of virtually all the customers stuck in this no-man’s-land. (Indeed, I wonder if Sunwing will even stay in business after most of the hundreds of passengers on our trip alone have indicated they will never fly with them again. Us included).
At 1:50AM, now more than two hours after standing around waiting for our bags, we finally got them. We were finally able to vacate the airport. During this time, no one from Sunwing had been available to provide any help or any information at all. Clearly, Sunwing does not care about their customers! Well, that’s OK because we don’t care about them any longer.
We left the airport at 2:20am, picked up our car and arrived home at 4:30AM. No fun!
If you have the opportunity to do so, don’t go anywhere near Sunwing.
Over the years, I’ve mentored many people looking to become writers (or, indeed, writers looking for new purpose). It’s been rewarding and many fine friendships have developed from these experiences.
Perhaps the question I’m most often asked as these relationships develop is, “How do you find the time to do it all?”. It’s a good question.
In answering, I’m going to make a confession: I recently sought help from another writer in a “spread-the-load” strategy. Here’s what happened.
Not long ago, I was involved in a conversation with some old friends about what kinds of cars our fathers drove. Don’t tell me how we got there: just happened. Anyway, this led us to one of the group talking about two guys he knows who have SUVs. He felt this was over the top and shared his reasoning. He then added that both vehicles were Cadillacs, and he set out against that theme as well. I’m not going to bore you with the details other than to say a discussion evolved and conclusions were reached.
“PJ, you might want to write about this in your blog,” one of the lads suggested. Fair enough: not a bad idea, but at that particular moment, I simply didn’t have any time available. “Happy to do it for you, if you like,” came the offer from the lead protagonist.
Now, truth be told, I was already over-due to post something on the blog (which I aim to do a least once a week, that being my commitment to the publisher who got me doing this thing in the first place, supposedly to add to my online “persona”). So this sounded like it could be an out. And after all, I would not claim they were my words, so I didn’t feel too bad…
Result: a relatively short blog entry that my pal authored and that got me out of a bind.
Now, this kind of thing is very rare. With me anyway. I take pride in writing, and that means having the time to write. In fact, I can’t think of another occasion where someone “ghosted” a blog entry for me. Still, I did feel I should ante up the truth about this one.
Meanwhile, back to mentoring folks who seek to be writers. Let me close by sharing my favourite story that I always relate to my mentees. It’s about the celebrated Canadian novelist and short story writer Margaret Laurence. Seems she was attending a cocktail party and a gentleman rushed up to her, drink in hand, beaming with pride. “Miss Laurence, so glad you’re here,” he said breathlessly. “My name is Dr. Robinson. I’m a brain surgeon. When I retire, I’m going to become a novelist.” I gather Ms. Laurence did not miss a beat when she gazed dryly at him and responded, “Oh, how delightful. When I stop writing, I’m going to become a brain surgeon,” and she walked off demurely in search of cheese and crackers.
You likely don’t know his name. But the late Ryan Anthony was a former member of the Toronto quintet Canadian Brass and principal trumpet with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Well respected by his fellow musicians, Ryan was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a deadly form of cancer. A foundation was set up – Cancer Blows – to raise awareness and money for further research, and this included creation of the unique “Song of Hope” which featured 1400 performers, aged 6 to 93, from 93 countries.
As is so often the case with great music, the song has migrated to a different scope, now known as A Hope for the Future, scored as a tribute to healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles-based Canadian trumpet soloist Jens Lindemann coordinated with 34 musicians in isolation to record and film the song from their homes around the world, and combined all those performances into a video.
I’ve watched this countless times and yet, it still moves me beyond belief. I hope it will do the same for you. Just click this link:
For some time now, Tom Sandler (Ruth Lowe’s son) and I have been working to finalize an agreement with the company we’ve selected to produce the feature film about Ruth’s life, based on my book, “Until I Smile At You”. Well, after way too many months of legal interpretations, alterations and revisions, it looks like we’re finally there: ready for signing.
Have to tell you, I’m thrilled to have all the contract stuff behind us. I’m a creative soul, and what turns me on is contributing to the “pitch deck” and shooting script that will lead up to casting key roles in the film. Who will play Ruth Lowe? Who will embody the young, brash Sinatra? Who will be the disciplinarian Tommy Dorsey? etc.
It's never been far from my mind that in the 1940s, MGM had wanted to make a film about Ruth’s life. Judy Garland was being touted to star, and she would have done a wonderful job of capturing Ruth’s spirit and talent. But the film never got off the ground (Ruth’s new husband kiboshed it, feeling she ought to focus her time on raising her new family, not on her past exploits).
But now we have the opportunity before us. Lady Gaga as Ruth Lowe??? I think she’d be outstanding.
I’ll keep you up to date in this space as things develop. But gotta tell ya, I’m pumped!