Life Lessons with Margaret

Even before I asked if I could sit down and interview her, Margaret waved me over and tapped the chair next to her signalling me to come over. “Aren’t you going to ask me some questions? I’m busy and I have to go soon but I guess I have time for a few.”

“I moved from Philadelphia to New York and I was unhappy until I met my husband. I was 16 and he was 18 at the time. I met him in New York. I’ve learned over the years that no matter how much money you have, it doesn’t buy happiness. It doesn’t at all buy happiness. It’s frustrating because you can’t get extra doctors. Well, you can but there’s a limit to what doctors can do for you. Be grateful for good health because part of it is just luck. Sometimes you will face problems that money can’t fix, so it’s important to have a good attitude and go about life with a happy mentality. And that’s what I’ve learned.

Money can’t buy you happiness. It’s one of those old sayings that we hear too often and end up ignoring. Instinctively, we believe that if we work harder and earn more money, we can improve our material lives which will ultimately bring about more happiness. Yet Margaret, a person with over ninety years worth of life experience, tells us that this instinct is false. It’s not a piece of advice that is particularly new; we hear it time and time again from childhood. However, when someone with almost a century-worth of wisdom tells us that happiness comes from our own state of mind, we really should take the old adage more seriously.

Like many of the other residents I have spoken too, Margaret lived through World War II. Unlike some of them, however, Margaret had to experience the pain of a loved one going to war.

“My husband was in the army when the second world war started. I don’t remember exactly but we were having dinner at my mother’s cousin’s house and my first thought when I went there was that my husband had to go. That was my first thought. More than anything, I wanted him to stay home with me away from the guns and bombs. Who wants to send a person they love into the middle of a battle field. But of course I knew that he would have to go. He wanted to be a pilot so he went to pilot school. By the time that ended, the war was over and pilots were declared nonessential. Thank goodness.”

When making decisions, we often think about the consequences it will have on ourselves. We contemplate the risk that we take on. Rarely, however, do we think about the effect it will have on the people we care about. The emotional distraught that Margaret must have felt should serve as a reminder to all of us to expand our awareness and consider effects of our actions beyond ourselves.