I stood before an eclectic gathering of dinner guests, questions unanswered. This much they knew: the ambiance was festive, the barbecue fare tasted scrumptious, the Chardonnay continued to pour, and plentiful desserts awaited. But nobody could answer two lingering questions:
Why this party theme? Why now?
Recognizing the personal significance of Saturday, September 14, 2013, I had brought together a far-ranging group of acquaintances, colleagues, and friends covering four decades of my life -- 40 guests in all.
This party had a unique -- and to my knowledge -- quite original theme, unlike anything these guests had experienced before.
The party invitation arrived with a commanding headline: Quit Party. Then the invitation addressed my purpose:
Okay, so what the heck is a Quit Party?
Well, it's an excuse for a poolside barbecue and libations... but a bit more than that.
Most of us have quit something and been better off for it. A job. A career. A relationship. A habit. A hair style. A belief. Something. Thus, we're celebrating your quit.
Your name badge will allow you to complete the sentence, "I quit (fill in the blank)."
The party theme should become a conversation starter with others you don't know. And could reveal something unknown about a dear one already close.
We will allow time during the party for those inclined to share a quit story with the rest of us.
Trying to avoid a false impression that this party might become a privacy-stripping psychodrama, the invitation offered reassurance:
This is a party, not a confessional. Let's nix political, ideological, moralistic, or antagonistic. Just share the upside of quitting something that has made you better, brighter, faster, happier, tougher.
If you prefer not to make your quit public, then you may use a ??? on your name badge. We won't hassle you.
Just come and honor your resolve, growth, and change while noshing on great barbecue. And celebrate!
The moment of full revelation had arrived as my guests assembled in front of me. Why this party theme? Why now? And so I told them a story...
The boy rested uneasily inside an oxygen tent, struggling to breathe the cold, aseptic air. The child had almost died two days earlier from asthma. Rushed to the hospital emergency room and then stabilized, his heart raced from the speedy effects of epinephrine.
Ten year later, the child had "outgrown" acute asthma attacks and was becoming a rebellious teenager. Since this was the mid-1960s, about 50 percent of adult men in the United States smoked cigarettes, the 20th century symbol of iconoclastic culture, the rise of Marlboro Man.
By the time this teenager became a college graduate student, he was smoking almost two packs of cigarettes per day, and lung abuse was beginning to take a toll on his health.
An asthmatic in childhood and addicted to cigarettes in youth, I owe my health today to a man and philosophy of living that he personified.
At the beginning of my second year of graduate school, several students and I were visiting a professor at her home. Her boyfriend stopped by, a man of imposing stature, at that time weighing around 215 pounds of sculpted muscle. I learned that he was a PhD candidate seeking degrees in sports psychology and exercise physiology.
His extraordinary fitness and friendly nature caused me to confess that I was concerned about my health. He invited me to go jogging with him and though hesitant, I accepted.
The next Saturday we ran in a city park and I kept pace, being young and lean. But as the miles stretched out, his graceful stride left me in the background. I recall seeing him running effortlessly ahead, nonchalant and focused. He never lectured me; he just pointed the way.
Because sustainable health was what I wanted more than anything after a childhood of illness, I quit smoking four days later, on September 14, 1973.
September 14, 2013 was exactly 40 years after the day I had quit smoking.
I stacked my deck of guests with profound communicators. Several are professional speakers, so enthusiastic volunteers followed me to share quit stories.
Joan told how she quit trying to starve herself just to lose a few pounds, finally embracing a positive self-image not dependent on idealistic looks-ism. Ed, a thoughtful speaker with mixed racial parents, quit trying to be either black or white but had finally accepted who he is: a proud multiracial man. Chrissie described her struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and that she had quit trying to be someone else, in denial of this disease. Today she has become an outspoken advocate for OCD awareness through a radio show and popular blog.
All "seasoned adults" have quit something that furthered their welfare. But our cultural narrative assigns quitting to losing, as if a quitter lacks the character trait of persistence.
Quitting can be the beginning of growth and maturation. Instead of denying or demeaning the acts of quitting beliefs, things, people, or behaviors, perhaps it's a good time for us to honor quitting instead.
As Charles Darwin advised, "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but those most responsive to change." And to quit is to change. Quitting is often cause for celebration.
Health was "extremely important" to happiness for 73 percent of respondents. People in "good or excellent" health are three times more likely to report being "very" happy. Interestingly, what may matter most is how healthy you think you are: The AARP found that the percentage of people reporting good health is relatively stable over the 35-80 age range, varying only seven percentage points. That's despite the fact that objectively, older people are in fact not as healthy: The number of people who report they are suffering two or more medical conditions increased 400 percent over the 35-80 age range. (People may be comparing their health to their peers who are in worse shape.)
Some 68 percent of respondents called relationships "extremely important" to happiness. Some 72 percent of people who were married or in a relationship called themselves "very happy" or "pretty happy" -- compared to 60 percent of singles. AARP asked respondents to rank the importance of certain activities to happiness, and many of those scoring at the top were relationship-related: 72 percent said "kissing or hugging someone you love"; 72 percent said "watching your children, grandchildren or close relative succeed in what they want to do"; 69 percent said "spending time with your family and friends such as a meal or social gathering'; and 64 percent said "experiencing a special moment with a child." However, relationships did have to be real: "connecting with friends or family on a social media site like Facebook" came in 37th out of 38 activities in contributing to happiness.
Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents said pleasure was "extremely important" to happiness. Among the simple pleasures that were most important to the happiness of people 50 to 80: enjoying natural beauty like a sunset or ocean (64 percent); having someone do something nice for you unexpectedly (56 percent); practicing religious or spiritual faith (50 percent); making progress on personal goals (47%); and being absorbed in a favorite hobby or interest (42 percent).
Four in ten of those surveyed called accomplishment "extremely important" to happiness.
Meaning and engagement were considered "extremely important" to happiness among 38 and 37 percent of respondents, respectively.
Some 31 percent of respondents said money was "extremely important" to happiness. Money was slightly more important to people who earned $25,000 or less. As psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman has noted, beyond a household income of $75,000, experienced well-being no longer increases, although people's judgment of how satisfied they are with their lives does continue to increase. At the same time, severe poverty amplifies life's misfortunes, such as illness or divorce. The AARP study found similar results: Income and happiness were positively correlated; when comparing the percentage of those "Very Happy" by income ranges, the slope increases up to the $75,000 mark, then continued to rise even more dramatically. Asked how they would spend $100 on something to increase happiness, most respondents said they would spend it on their family or going out to dinner. This correlates with findings that show buying experiences makes people happier than buying things.
People who feel they are in control of their happiness report that they are 2.5 times happier than those who believe happiness is out of their control. A sense of control is linked to higher income, higher education, good health and not experiencing a major life event in the past year. This finding also mirrors decades of research suggesting autonomy -- the feeling that your actions are self-chosen and self-endorsed -- is a core psychological need. Studies have found people who lack a sense of control -- prisoners, nursing home residents, people living under totalitarian governments -- suffer lower morale and poor health, according to David Myers, a professor at Hope College in Michigan and author of "The Pursuit of Happiness." Interestingly, a sense of control over one's happiness rises with age -- with 69 percent of people age 75 to 80 feeling they have control over their happiness, versus about half of people age 40 to 54. It may be that with the wisdom of the years, people recognize that happiness is a choice.
Spending time with a pet can be a substantial way to contribute to one's happiness, the survey found, especially for older women: 81 percent of women age 66 to 80 who own pets said spending time with them contributes "a lot" to personal happiness. It was also important to two-thirds of singles.
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