According to a 90-year old woman who has never read self-help.
Her golden blonde locks blowing in the wind, I looked at her with the warmest feeling in my heart. I smiled. And then swiftly and without caution, I reached over the table and messed up her hair as best as I possibly could.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been messing up my grandma’s hair. A mischievous little guy, I always realized how precious grandma’s hair was to her, so whenever I saw an opportunity, I made her perfectly shaped hairdo as unkempt as possible.
At 90-years old, my grandma is still obsessed with her hair. At 25-years old, I still love messing up her hair. And for 20 years, each time I ruin what is most likely hours of work on her do, she looks at me with a gasp and the biggest smile on her face.
I don’t love this woman just because she’s my grandma. I love her because she knows how to make the most out of life. I love her because she knows not to take herself too seriously. I love her because, for 90 years on this planet, she has never read a self-help book, yet she has lived one of the most fulfilling, meaningful, and purpose-driven lives of anybody I know. She is truly happy.
As I sat with grandma at lunch after just having messed up her hair, I asked her about how she has lived such a remarkable life without the help of Dale Carnegie or Mel Robbins. What I discovered has had one of the most profound impacts on my life to this day.
1. She Experienced the World
One of the first descriptions I would use to describe my grandmother is “world traveller.” But, she only started travelling later in life. Even so, she assured me that she was experiencing the world long before she began to travel by learning about different cultures, watching films or reading history books.
Gaining an understanding of the world around us allows us to escape the isolation of our current situations. It makes us realize the beauty there is to discover. It makes us see the hardship others may face. It teaches us that we must appreciate each and every opportunity we are afforded because it all could have been much different.
2. She Read Fiction
My grandma loves to read. She’s always talking about her book club with the ladies, and she’s always giving my dad and me recommendations on what to pick up next. And almost always, she recommends fiction.
She loves how a story comes together piece by piece, which allows her to enjoy every moment of the journey, not focus on the destination. She loves the emotional aspect. She loves the sense of escape from her reality, an opportunity to envision her life as what could be or could have been.
She is simply in the moment, enjoying every second.
3. She Put Her Health First
Health first? But what about family, you might be saying. Well, if we don’t have our own health, then we’re nothing for our family.
This extraordinary 90-year old woman goes to the gym every single day. She bikes and walks, lifts weights and goes in the pool, and she doesn’t let anything stop her. She stays away from fried food, she loves salads, and she has monthly check-ins with a variety of different doctors. She knows that in order for her to show up for everybody else, she must show up for herself first.
4. She Focused on Her Family Next
When asked what she wanted for her 90th birthday, my grandma had one very simple request. “I just want my family to be together.” We could have gone anywhere, done anything, but so long as the people she loved most were around her, she knew she would have the best birthday.
My grandma has two children and three grandchildren. She is best friends with my mom, her daughter-in-law, and she is also great friends with my other grandma, my mom’s mom. She knows who matters most to her in this world, and she puts those people before anybody else.
5. She Continuously Made New Friends
When you get to be 90, sadly many of your friends have passed. Although devastating, this does not stop grandma from pushing forward and building new friendships. This does not stop grandma from saying hello to people at the gym, chatting up her stylist at the beauty parlour, or inviting her neighbour in for a cup of tea.
Grandma knows that these relationships cannot match the 50, 60, or 70-year bonds she had with certain people, but she doesn’t play the comparison game. She treats each individual relationship like it’s the only one that matters in the world.
People tend to like you when you like them, and grandma is a perfect example of that.
6. She Constantly Looked at the Bright Side
We had a bit of a scare with grandma recently. After nine decades of pristine health, doctors found a tumour on her colon back in October. It was cancerous.
Never having had major surgery before, the surgeon told her that she would be under anaesthesia for a number of hours. Grandma’s response sums up her outlook on life. “That sounds wonderful, doctor, I’ve been sleeping terribly all week!”
Grandma finds something positive in every situation. This mindset is truly special.
7. She Didn’t Waste Her Energy on People Who Didn’t Want to Listen
My grandma was a schoolteacher, so, luckily for thousands of kids growing up in Queens, New York, they got to learn from this wonderful woman. Because of how invested she is in every single person, I asked grandma if she ever had any students that she couldn’t or didn’t want to help. Her answer surprised me.
“Of course, I did, Jord. It’s impossible to help everybody.”
Grandma expressed that while she certainly tried her best to help every student who walked into her classroom, if at a point she realized that a person had no desire to listen or change, she would direct her energy elsewhere.
She said that focusing her energy on the wrong place would be detrimental to all the other students who did want to get better, so she decided to put her efforts into them.
8. She Never Focused on Excess
My grandma had a very comfortable income, and she was able to afford a lifestyle that many others could only dream about. But she never took advantage of this. She always drove modest cars, bought modest clothing, and wore modest jewellery.
She could have desired and acquired so much more, but she preferred to spend her excess on others.
Grandma realized that things don’t make her happy. Experiences make her happy. People make her happy. She doesn’t need or crave more; she’s content with what she already has.
9. She Never Let the Past Keep Her From Moving Forward
Until this point, I have yet to mention my grandfather, grandma’s husband of over 60 years. In June 2014, my grandfather passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Can you imagine no longer having somebody in your life with whom you spent the last 60 years creating yours with?
It would have been normal for grandma to feel depressed. It would have been normal for grandma not to be herself for a little while. It would have been normal for her to not ever really move on.
But grandma is not normal.
Grandma knew that in order for her to live a meaningful rest of her life, she needed to accept her reality and focus on what she could do to be happy going forward. She will never stop loving my grandpa, but I am pleased to say that five years later, grandma has taken each day, each moment in stride and continues to do so.
10. She’s Certain That We Only Get One Chance at This Crazy Thing Called Life
I don’t know how or why she ever heard this phrase, but a few years ago, my grandma said “YOLO” to me, and I couldn’t help but laugh. This millennial catchphrase perfectly summarizes the way my grandmother views life.
There is nothing that my grandma has not done that she wanted to do. There is nothing my grandma has done that she regrets. Grandma truly epitomizes YOLO and proactively shares this mentality with everyone around her.
Grandma finished putting all of her sunny yellow hair back into place and she smiled her big beautiful smile. At that moment, I didn’t say anything.
I just took the time to realize that sitting across from me was the world’s foremost expert on self-help. I had somebody who had squeezed every little drop out of life itself in order to discover what truly defined the meaning of her life.
No books, no podcasts, nothing. Through being present, experiencing, evaluating, reconfiguring, reflecting, and sharing, grandma has been able to live 90 years of prolonged purpose. It has not been perfect by any means, but it is her version of perfect.
By not so intensely searching for the answers and craving the exact definition of what life we are meant to live, I think we can all create our own versions of perfect lives as well.