Years ago our family of four had piled into the minivan and was heading home from a great vacation in the Florida Keys. We had driven for a few hours and decided that our two young daughters could use a break (meaning they were getting antsy and our patience was running low), so we stopped for lunch at a tiny restaurant. Waiting for the food to arrive, my husband, Tony, and I reminisced about all of the fun we had on the trip. We speculated about winning the lottery and living a life of fishing, swimming and snorkeling. About halfway through this daydream, our youngest daughter, Julianne, looked up and asked, “So what happens if we don’t win the laundry?” After we finished chuckling, Tony and I told her that we would get to go on living life the way we live it now. She seemed content for the moment with that answer.
Now that both girls are grown (and, as their mother, I’d like to add become lovely young women), I look back on this lunch and not only smile, but ponder the 30 years of our life between that lunch and now. No, we did not win the Florida Lottery and retire to the Keys. We have, however, lived a life that brings Tony and me great joy. Not every minute is one of happiness and joy. There have been many challenging times. Living with lupus has profoundly impacted our lives in ways that even winning the lottery could not change. As I’ve grown older, it has become clearer to me that winning the lottery isn’t really what brings happiness and research seems to confirm this. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year found life satisfaction rises with higher incomes up to a household income of about $75,000, and levels off afterward. Though dreaming about sipping Piña coladas each day and watching the sunset does seem lovely, I’ve learned that, for me, being happy is really about my connections to other people and the joy that I derive from nature. Yes, lottery winnings may allow people to do more things, have more material possessions and perhaps lead an easier life, but I don’t believe in the long run this is true happiness.
Studies have shown that people who are happy are ones who spend time with family and friends, express gratitude, help others, exercise regularly and live life with purpose. I know that I’m certainly happiest when I’m with my family and friends and when I’m volunteering and helping others. I would not trade those experiences for winning the lottery (or the “laundry” as my daughter called it)! They say that with age comes wisdom and perhaps 30 years post family vacation lunch I am a bit wiser. Or it may be that when I look back at my life, it isn’t the material possessions (no, not even the shoes) that make me smile; it is the little things. The Mother’s Day gift lovingly made by little hands, the smiles I see on our daughters’ faces when something pleases them, the puppies that we adopted into our lives, my husband gently reaching for my hand when we are walking—even after nearly 40 years of marriage.
Yes, lupus has been a challenge in my life mentally, physically, emotionally and financially, but I have also learned a great deal from living with it. I have learned and continue to learn every day that I must embrace this life, warts and all, and live each moment fully. I must look for the good things, even when the challenges seem insurmountable and, most of all, I must hug those I love and enjoy each moment we spend together, “laundry” winnings or not. Hugs y’all.