The Third Third

But will it make you happy?

[“But Will It Make You Happy?”][1] asks the *New York Times* in a wide-ranging story chiefly about documented trends in recession-era consumer spending.  It’s the predictable less-is-more and experiences-are-more-valuable-than-acquisitions analysis.  But the richest conclusion comes from Roko Belic, a Los Angeles filmmaker, who has been traveling the world making a documentary called “[Happy][2],” which, he says, shows that “the one single trait that’s common among every single person who is happy is strong relationships.” It seems we should have learned that lesson in the course of living into our third third, regardless of the ebb and flow of global economic conditions.  But how quickly we forget (she says, impulsively pulling out her Neiman Marcus charge card to buy one of fall’s new must-have accessories).  Somehow, however, I think our kids (now grown) got it.  I am reminded of a discussion that took place, probably around the dinner table, about their favorite family vacations.  Our youngest, who was six or seven at the time, proclaimed a last-minute New Year’s Eve excursion to a hotel in Houston the best.  A perplexing choice, given trips to Cape Cod and Hawaii, even London, and her older siblings demanded she defend it.  She did:  “It was the best because we could swim in the pool, and Daddy didn’t have to talk on the phone even once, and Mommy didn’t have to go to a meeting, so we could all be together.”  Duly noted. Now, as they forge their own paths, create or adopt their own lifestyles, I find them doing a much better job than my husband and I did of balancing personal happiness with achievement and all the accoutrements of success.  They’re not hedonistic slackers -- don’t get me wrong -- but they certainly aren’t in to climbing any corporate ladders or measuring themselves by anyone else’s standards; they seem to constantly assess if what they are doing, and how they are living, is fulfilling, and if it makes them what I would call healthily happy and thus available for strong, meaningful relationships with each other, a spouse, friends, colleagues, family.  And if it’s not, they promptly entertain a change -- even in this very rocky economy. The good news for us is that with my husband’s retirement, we get the chance to invest differently now, too, and to more fully integrate what makes us happy into every day of our life.   What makes us happy?  Nurturing relationships is at the top of my list.  My spouse, my kids as adults, old friends, new friends, my sisters, even, sometimes, my dad.  Writing is a close second.  And discovering new sources of wonder -- the abundance of life, for example, or the beauty of a vista -- is third.  Shopping which has, from time to time, I confess, been a form of therapy for me, no longer makes the list. What makes you happy?  [1]: http:// [2]:
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