What contributes to a well-lived life? Books and research articles about aging well include some ideas.
Tidbits include creating daily opportunities for being gentle with one’s self; relaxation; accomplishment (anything from school to ranching to baking brownies can count); finding pleasant events; and exercise. Of course, there are other technical tools of seeing how daily living or life stages can be enhanced, in times of hardship and in times of ordinary living.
There is also the less technical stuff about how to live life well. That is the part I think about often, particularly in those times of hardship or directly after. The best I can do to describe that intangible target of a life well lived is to consider a couple people I have encountered throughout my lifespan.
The first person I can recall is a woman who was, to all of the people in my community back in Texas, known as “the farmer’s wife.” She taught me piano for a few years (it did not take) and also played piano for our 4-H group when we would rehearse for annual Christmas caroling at the local nursing homes. She was gentle, kind, assertive and always had a smile for everyone. I had grandparents in the area, but the farmer’s wife matched my loving grandma for every gesture and word of encouragement. I never forgot that unconditional positive regard she gave me in childhood, and I think it strengthened me whenever I encountered challenges in early life.
The second person is a psychologist I worked with at another VA in North Carolina. She was also kind, gentle and had a wise or accepting word for every situation. In times of strife, she demonstrated patience sorting through what could be done that might bring soothing or solace to whatever situation that had to be endured. She was also incredibly patient, deliberative and provided unconditional positive regard. There was no pretense. When a situation was deeply concerning, she would not sugar coat. She gave her feedback to those of us who would attempt to shed light on the concern. She also responded by exiting when she found she could add no more good — I thought that was a good life lesson as well.
There have been others. I remember asking one man’s children if he had always been such a steady and nice person. Their response: Always.
The qualities that those on my list share include being present, listening to others with patience, taking a step back and reflecting and looking for the good in most everyone. These people also had the ability to withstand hardship, witness uncomfortable things and remain hopeful and attentive. I pay attention to this because, at the end of their lives, humanity swarms to comfort and support those who cultivated happiness and satisfaction in themselves and in others.
Dr. Tamarra Crawford is a Sheridan Veterans Affairs Health Care System psychologist.