Friday, March 22, 2013

"Don't die until you're dead!"

"Don't die until you're dead" - the theme of the movie Quartet as encapsulated for its director, Dustin Hoffman, by Billy Connelly, one of the quartet that take stage center in this lovely movie that I am recommending to anyone over 50, and anyone under 50 who is caring for aging loved ones.

Quartet tells the story of four elderly British opera singers, who reunite in a home for retired, needy British musicians.  The reunion is strained, for three of the quartet have been there awhile, have created new patterns, new friendships, have settled in.  Then, quite unexpectedly, the fourth, the diva, the soprano played as only Maggie Smith could, arrives bringing her phonograph, the albums of her glory days, and a hefty dose of discordance and unfinished business.

The members of the quartet are veteran British actors and actresses who play off one another with a grace and sensitivity that helps you believe they could have performed together decades ago.  As you are asked to believe they did - the performance, the quartet from Rigoletto.  A performance they are asked to repeat for a concert to be given on the anniversary of Verdi's birthday, designed not only to raise money for the home, but to acknowledge the contribution and heritage of the home's residents.

The challenges that each member faces in order to perform are representative of the challenges many of us have faced already or will most likely face in the future - health issues, unfinished business with relationships, loss of skills and a sense of identity, loneliness.  All are treated with compassion and dignity.  Never harsh, never maudlin, but also never pollyannish.  Humorous, but not at anyone's expense.

The cast is supported by musicians whose scenes of practice and performance are as touching as those of the quartet.  Hoffman reported in an AARP interview that some of the musicians had not been asked to perform for over 30 years and were so grateful to be included that they showed up at 6 in the morning and would rehearse for 14 hours.  The music itself is worth the admission, and in case you are not a huge fan of classical music, not to worry.  My husband isn't either, and he enjoyed the film as much as I did.  Just watching the musicians, their concentration, their dedication and the sheer joy of making music together and having their skills enjoyed and applauded was such a pleasure.

So - though I understand Billy Connelly's synopsis and smiled when I read it, I also think this movie deals with themes of friendship and forgiveness, courage and possibility.  With characters who are aging, but not old.  I recommend it because I think you would enjoy it and also because I want to support these lovely, quiet films that celebrate rather than denigrate.  That tell simple stories well, that don't rely on special effects and gimmicks.  That leave you feeling better, more hopeful than when you entered the theater.  That could even leave you clapping in appreciation, as Quartet inspired our matinee audience. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

In the Pursuit of Happiness

I realized the other day that I am happier than I have ever been - and the realization surprised me.  Partially, because I've never really aspired to be happy.  Content, yes; satisfied, yes.  But the word happy has never been familiar.  So, it surprised me to be using it to describe how I feel. 

Being inclined to analyze my feelings, to reflect on my thinking, I have been journaling on this rather interesting state of affairs - did happiness creep up on me when I wasn't looking?  Have I been working toward it subconsciously?  How do I nurture this? 

Then the Feb/Mar issue of the AARP Magazine arrived with the article, "Give Yourself a Happiness Makeover."  Aha!!!  The article answered my questions - so well that I want to pass on the ten things author Dan Buettner recommends for improving one's happiness.  I think they are worth considering.

  1. Nestle in the Right Neighborhood - "where you choose to live is one of the most important determinants of your happiness."  Our decision to move to a smaller, more civilized, slower paced community is definitely one the biggest contributors to my personal happiness.  I don't think the size of the city is important - I do strongly believe that the safety, familiarity, and sense of neighborhood is.
  2. Stop Shopping; Start Saving - "research shows that financial security brings much more happiness over time than buying things does."   I know we are spending less, but of more significance is that what we are spending on is experiences rather than things - a cruise, musical performances - and oh yes, books.  The library is on my to do list.
  3. Make the Most of Your Morning - for a good breakfast and 30 minutes of exercise.  We are doing well with breakfast - but exercise?  Still a challenge for both of us.  I must admit, however, that I feel much better when I have walked in the morning and this reminder is inspiring me to get moving again.
  4. Trim Your TV Time - "The happiest people watch less than one hour of television a day, according to a study of 40,000 people who took National Geographic's True Happiness Test."  One hour!!?!  I've acknowledged for some time now that I am more productive with less tv time, but happy?  I'm taping all shows to eliminate commercial time, eliminating reruns unless exceptional.  But one hour?  That's not trimming, it's probably major surgery for many people - me, included.  I'm going to play around with this awhile.
  5. Get a Daily Dose of Friends -  the research of Jim Harter, PhD "shows that America's happiest people purposefully plan for social times and get at least six hours a day of interaction with friends and family."  Maybe this explains the power of social networking.  Perhaps because of my generation, I require less hours but more interaction.  E-mails aren't enough. One good telephone conversation can make my day, especially if it's with a sibling or an old friend.  A 'date' for lunch and a movie with John fulfills my needs for the day.  And since we've retired, we try to do this every week.
  6. Find Your Soul Mate - well, must admit I don't buy into the concept of soul mates, but I have seen the statement that "people in long term committed relationships suffer less stress and live longer with fewer diseases" enough times to accept it.  I would add, however, that the relationships should be mutually satisfying!  Enduring isn't enough for happiness.
  7. Meet, Pray, Love - "research shows that people who belong to a faith-based community - regardless of religion - and attend services more than once a week live as much as seven years longer than people who don't."  I'd like to know more about this as I am acquainted with many happy people who don't belong to faith-based communities.  I have become involved in a Unitarian Fellowship - for the fellowship, the support of like-minded people, not the faith.  Definitely would like to know more about this research.
  8. Create a Sunny Sanctuary - ah yes, I have done this with greater success than in any other home I've lived in and I know it has made a huge difference in my morale.  We've just completed the creation of an art niche where I indulge in a new passion, graphite drawing.  It is filled with supplies, inspiration, it.  Makes me smile just thinking about it - created it, bright, a sanctuary.
  9. Gain Peace with a Pooch -  a study published in 2011 shows "that pets foster self-esteem, calmness, soothing and a feeling of acceptance."  We don't have pets now because we prefer the freedom and mobility we have without them, but I have noticed how much satisfaction John gets from feeding a family of feral cats that have adopted us, as well as the colony of birds we keep alive over the winter.  And he always has to reason with me whenever I see a Schnauzer.
  10. Ignite Your Passion for Compassion - one body of research shows that "altruism stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as sugar and cocaine do."  And giving money away rather than spending it on self seems to bring greater happiness.  I would add that for me, at least, I am gaining more satisfaction by becoming more involved in a cause or concern than by only giving financial support.  That's definitely easier to do now that I'm retired, but I have known many people to have been involved while holding down jobs and caring for families.  They probably don't watch more than one hour of tv a day.