My 97-Year-Old Grandmother’s Secret to Dealing with Any Life Challenges

So that happened. Now what?

This needs to be the motto of human existence because we mess up many times in our short period on this big rock.

So that happened. So what?

You pick yourself up and get moving again. To be human is to try again.

My beloved grandmother and others illustrated this concept for me, but it took a long time for the lesson to sink in properly.

My grandmother was a very practical person. She was, in fact, one of four very practical siblings, all part of the “Greatest” generation. The Greatest generation members lived through the Great Depression of 1929–1933, and many fought in World War Two.

These folks, born between 1900 and 1930, are currently the oldest citizens in the United States. According to Statista, they are less than two percent of the American population of 331 million today.

My grandmother lived the longest of her siblings. She made it to age 97, less than three weeks from her 98th birthday.

I spent most of my time with her as a child and into my early twenties. She always taught me something in a non-obvious way through example. She mostly taught me to just keep showing up. Later in life, I realized that she had also been teaching me that you choose how to react to what happens.

If you want to be happy, be happy.

I didn’t realize that she was teaching me at first. I just thought that she was quirky.

For instance, she could totally ignore or paste a small smile on her face, even if an adult person got upset with her. This rarely happened, but a few instances stand out in my memory.

One was a racist incident in a theme park and the second involved a mean neighbor who wouldn’t take her trash to the curb.

In the first incident, both she and the other grandmother with her totally ignored the ignorant white man’s incendiary comments, and in the second case, my grandmother just took the woman’s trash can to the curb and returned the can at the end of the day.

She didn’t gossip or complain in either case, she just did what she thought was right and nobody got hurt. She never spoke about either incident and told me not to bother either. I don’t know if living during Jim Crow times made her this way, but I don’t think I came close to her level of calmness until I hit 40!

Until then, I had multiple chances to witness other people react calmly in the face of righteous upset and anger. I had even talked with some of them, because while I had learned to close my mouth and freeze my face, sometimes, I rarely felt calm inside.

Then one day, I started thinking, “Why am I letting this issue sap my energy? I am tired. This issue is not something that I care that much about so I can let it go.” And I did. Ah! I had more energy to focus on other things.

I recently heard a podcasting therapist say something that my experience confirms: During the first part of life get your mind together, and in the middle and end parts, focus on your mind along with your physical health.

Pretty simple, right?

For me, that means:

  • starting the day with a positive intention

  • being curious rather than reactionary, verifying truth rather than assuming a narrative

  • remembering that feelings are not facts

  • using meditation and yoga to maintain mental and physical flexibility, and

  • enjoying simple pleasures like a short walk, a cup of tea, or an examination of the sky when none of these other ideas seems to work.

All along, my grandmother’s teaching echoes in my mind, “If you want to be happy, be happy.”

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