‘What my 92-year-old grandmother taught me about living a happy life’

‘What my 92-year-old grandmother taught me about living a happy life’

Felicity Harley shares the touching message her grandmother shared with her on her very last day on earth.  

So, here’s the ultimate secret to living a good life, an enriched life, a well life, a more balanced one: true wellness is about deep, healthy, empowering connections with your partner, kids, family, friends, colleagues and community.

Connections with people.

We are more connected with people than ever before—look at how invaluable a phone and internet connection was in the drama of the fires—but so often our screen connection isn’t real.

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The digital era threatens true connections

The emotion can be misread, the power of face-to-face human interaction lost. Digital distraction wreaks havoc on our tired brains. We hide behind our screens and avoid true connection. We kid ourselves that we’re connected, when really, we’re not.

As far back as 530 BC, Pythagoras (the ancient triangle theory guy) nailed it: ‘Friends are as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life.’

So, let’s stop our tribes shrinking, prevent friendships from falling away and neighbours being nobodies—make the effort. Go for dinner, invite them over. Do something good and, in turn, you’ll feel good and so the cycle begins.

Make time for those that count

Often when we’re breathless in our days, suffocated by mental loads, drowning in responsibilities and hung up on expectations, our relationships are the first thing to slip down the list of priorities. When, in fact, they should be right up the top.

Oh, but I’m so exhausted, there is no flippin’ way I can meet her for dinner tonight. And then you sprawl on the couch watching Married At First Sight.

Come on, we’re all guilty of this one. Or this: ‘I am too busy to call’ and then you sit on social media for fifteen minutes in a wet towel before pulling on your PJs.

I admit I feel like a bit of a fraud writing this because too often I’ve blown off a drinks invitation, failed to call my best mate back for days, not phoned a friend lost in grief or let the guilt consume me for missing someone’s birthday . . . all because life is too busy, too hectic, I have too much going on. I, too, am remorseful for ‘skimming on all my important relationships’, as a friend once lamented to me.

It’s too easy to take our good relationships for granted too often—Oh, she’ll understand if I don’t go.

Don’t take your circle of friends for granted

In fact, relationships with friends, family and partners—the healthy ones, that is—can be much-needed therapy for your stress, an antidote to your overwhelm and exhilarating for the soul. Kemi told me: ‘It’s easy to forget how important the people close to you are, we often ignore them over the bright shiny object things, whatever they are.’ How true.

It’s simple evolution, really—we’re designed to form close bonds, to exist in a pack. Back when we hung out in caves with bones in our hair, we survived in our tribe so we could hunt animals, protect each other, share water—and those fundamentals have not changed. In fact, researchers say we’re hardwired to connect: that spending quality time with others is as important to us as water and sleep.

Social researcher Hugh Mackay says: “Most of us define the meaning of our lives in terms of our relationships, and our relationships define us. Unless we nurture these connections through communication, they lose their significance for us—which is another way of saying we lose something of ourselves.”

Loneliness, for example, has been linked to a plethora of health problems, from high blood pressure to cancer to weaker immunity.

One study concluded that loneliness can, quite literally, hurt your heart. It kills. Social belonging also brings an enriching sense of purpose and identity. One of the world’s longest-running studies out of Harvard University—that has now clocked in at more than 80 years—has seen researchers tag-teaming and following a group of men, at first, and now their wives. (Just as well.)

The big question they asked: what keeps people happy and healthy throughout their lives?

The critical finding was that meaningful relationships are the number one predictor of health, happiness and longevity. Sure, genes and caring for your body count, but the connection is like a shield, the protector through life’s rougher times.

Sure, the research is there, but my own sobering experience has gently reaffirmed it.

My grandmothers last words…

I was sitting at my desk one day when my grandfather called me to tell me that my grandmother’s life was nearing the end. She was 92 and had lived, in her words, ‘a good life’.

My sister Eliza and I hot-footed it to the hospital. When I walked into the darkened room, Marnie, as we called her, was lying eerily still, cords like spaghetti around her bed. I held her hand, stroked her arm—her skin felt like tissue paper. I walked into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror, teary-eyed and my heart as heavy as concrete. I said to myself, This is the last time you will talk to your grandmother alive.

I perched on the side of her bed, held her hand and asked her this: “What’s one piece of wisdom you can share, the most important thing you’ve learnt in your life?” She answered in a hushed, puffed whisper.

“Take care of the people closest to you, as that is all that really matters in life. That you are all close to me now—that’s a life worth living.”

Felicity Harley ‘s book Balance & Other B.S, is out now. Follow her on follow her on Instagram for more.

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