Art of Aging: Finding happiness

If the idea of getting old fills you with dread, there is a New York Times reporter who literally wrote the book on finding happiness as you age.

If you'd asked John Leland just two years ago his thoughts on aging, he'd have focused on the negatives.

But now the author of "Happiness is a Choice You Make" is speaking out.

"You lose your eyesight, you lose your hearing, you don't work a job anymore, and you don't earn money. You don't have sex. "You're invisible in America," he said.

But then just as he was going through a divorce, he became the primary caretaker of his 87-year-old mother.

Leland said, "Then I met people who were in that age group. They all managed to have full and fulfilling lives even when they couldn't do the things that used to define them."

It was for Leland, a life -changing realization.

"Bad things happen to us whether we're 20 or whether we're 50 or whether we're 80, but we have a choice of whether we define ourselves by those things we lost or by what we still have," he said.

It inspired him to write a book called "Happiness is a Choice you Make," based on a year he spent with six elders from various backgrounds but all sharing one common thread.

Resilience - all these people had suffered some kind of loss or other. They got on with their lives.

A retired civil servant named Fred Jones taught Leland the importance of gratitude.

"Fred Jones that I saw and every time I saw him I just got in a better mood and-and Fred's life was really hard he was, he lived in a walk-up apartment and he was about to lose two, parts of two toes to gangrene and was just in a lot of pain all the time and I said, Fred what's your favorite part of the day? And he said, 'waking up in the morning and saying thank god for another day.'

From a couple who met in a nursing home, he learned it's never too late for love.

"To make yourself vulnerable to somebody new in your 90's and to form those bonds knowing that they could end really soon for one of you, and the other will be left without that person, I think that took a lot of courage, and yet they got so much out of it and had such a, a rich relationship," Leland said.

And from a Nazi slave camp survivor named Jonas, he adopted a wonderful motto on life.

"Keep dancing, keep singing, have a good drink, and do not get too serious," added Leland.

His book, he hopes will give a long overdue voice to older people.

"We should listen to them, not just because it's the right thing to do but because there are life lessons there that can make life better for all of us," Leland said.

Send a News Tip to Action News
Report a Correction or Typo
Learn More About 6abc Apps
Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.