ODE TO S.U.N.S.*
Smile-making is thinking and doing, all positively done.
Uniting is connecting with someone and with everyone.
Neighboring is sharing and often making others Number One.
Spellbinding is being “all in” and star-stunned for the joy run.
*There are billions of suns in our universe, and each is a joy-sustaining star.
The sun was designed to sustain life on earth and “The S.U.N.S. Aging Joyously Lifestyle” is designed to sustain joy on earth.
Several years ago, I had a long lunch with Dr. Joyce Brothers which positively changed my life’s work. At the time, Joyce, as she asked me to call her, was America’s favorite celebrity psychologist. She was like Oprah’s Dr. Phil and the sexologist, Dr. Ruth, rolled into one charming, down-to-earth, genius friend.
Dr. Brothers was interwoven in everyone’s life. She was in every family room in a monthly advice column for “Good Housekeeping Magazine” which ran for 40 years, and she was in every bedroom on late-night talk shows. Over her long career she also hosted two, award-winning, primetime television series.
I had invited Dr. Brothers, at my mother’s enthusiastic suggestion, to be the keynote speaker at a corporate meeting. The sponsor was actively adding more women to their marketing force and Joyce had studied successful females in the workplace. She also had the added representational credential of being successful and female.
We met at the Nashville airport. Joyce was superb with time-management. She suggested a travel plan that allowed her to enjoy a pleasant lunch, be energized as a speaker, but back home in New York City for dinner with her husband and daughter.
Over lunch, we talked about the demographics of her afternoon audience while she took notes, which allowed her to personally unite with them. She was warm and engaging in our one-on-one and I got to be Johnny Carson with my interview questions.
After she felt prepped for her performance, she put away her work, and, like your favorite dinner party partner, she seemed more interested in my life and interests than in her own. She was intrigued that I had earned a certification in gerontology but had abandoned my doctoral work because the course content seemed to be primarily about the problems of being old not the positive aspects.
My “Gerontologist of Joy” moniker was inspired by this meaningful lunch with Dr. Joyce Brothers. One life lesson here is to be open to meeting all kinds of people. You never know who is helping you birth your next great idea and fostering some spellbinding passion.
Dr. Brothers agreed that most psychologists focus on what’s abnormal and undesirable and want to “fix people” rather than celebrate and elevate what is positive. Her own sunniness was like switching on a lightbulb for me. I could choose to have “laser focus” on what brings joy to each of us as we move through the various stages of aging.
We were in “Music City, USA” and I am reminded of this Dolly Parton career advice: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” So, “who I was” remained interested in the study of aging but even more captivated, spellbound, by the smile-making perspective of joy as we age.
S.U.N.S. (Smile-Making, Uniting, Neighboring, Spellbinding)—Over the four decades since noshing in Nashville with Dr. Joyce Brothers, I have studied what makes positive seniors tick and found I can explain commonalities with just four words. (Note: For rights to use all or parts of the S.U.N.S. lifestyle information, Facebook message Ben South.)
Rather than some great, gray mass of sameness, it has been my experience and delight to find that as we age, we become more distinctive, some might say—eccentric. So, exactly what brings us joy is as unique as each of us is but these four S.U.N.S. traits are shared by the happiest of us long-timers, and by the related choices each of us make. Tom Rath, who writes more best-selling nonfiction books than any author sold by Amazon, says “Small choices change everything.”
“The S.U.N.S. Aging Joyously Lifestyle” ain’t gonna swing until you add your own special “ing.” For you, these might include: Laughing? Questioning? Basking? Gathering? Coupling? Hammering? Singing? Dreaming? Meditating? Helping? Loving? Let me suggest a few things for joy-adding. Here are the four words to remember and just one related idea for each of the essential elements to help you up your happiness quotient.
SMILE-MAKING—Positive-thinking is a choice and so is positive-doing. (IDEA: Start your day by welcoming light and spreading an ear-to-ear grin across your face. Your brain can’t detect that you are choosing to scrunch up your eyes and self-impose joy. “Welcome the light of day. Smile in an eye-scrunching way.” That should be a framed message in every home. One thing about us joyful oldsters is, more than in younger years, we just don’t give a fat rat’s ass about what other people might think. We don’t mind wearing what some might think is a goofy grin as long as we know it’s not hurting anyone else and it is making us happier.)
UNITING—Connecting with someone authentically and deeply is essential. I admit this one is sometimes challenging for a “do bee” like me who wants to feel productive all the time. In my younger years, I was often guilty of putting career, ambition and indulging my insatiable curiosity ahead of important relationships. Genuinely uniting with others means taking the time to understand them, appreciate them, respect them and cooperate with them. (IDEA: Find a “Gratitude Partner.” I ran across this suggestion in a “Real Simple Magazine” article (April, 2021) by Courtenay Smith. Select someone you trust and make a pact to text each other something each and every day for which you are grateful.)
NEIGHBORING—Being more “others-centered” gives us more joy than excessive self-absorption. (IDEA: Start today saving your pocket change as a “Coins for a Cause” you would like to support. You won’t miss the pennies, nickels and dimes and you’ll be helping your neighbors. Think of the “March of Dimes,” or “Coppers for Cop Stop”—I may label my jingle jar: “Nickels Against Numbskulls.” The cause should be one you sincerely value but it doesn’t have to be solemn.)
SPELLBINDING—Being lost in the moment is somewhat goal-oriented. Whether you resolve to read for 30 minutes a day or sweep your porch, choose something you want to make a daily devotion to and go at it. (IDEA: I requested a $20 metal, “wrist reminder” My Intent band with my personal message-to-me that reads “LAFF EVRY DAY.” Thanks to the folks at myintent.com, I am nudged to watch vintage television sit-coms or something laugh-inducing for just 30-minutes each day. It’s not meditation or prayer but it works for me—don’t judge.)
S.U.N.S FAVORITE QUOTES
SMILE-MAKING—“It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald
UNITING—“You are not separate from the whole. You are one with the sun, the earth, the air. You don’t have a life. You are life.”—Eckhart Toile
NEIGHBORING—“Sunflowers follow the sun, but when things look cloudy and bleak they face each other and share their energy. Imagine if people would do this too.”—Unknown
SPELLBINDING—“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”—Alexander Graham Bell
“The S.U.N.S. Aging Joyously Lifestyle” is not a goal. It is a simple to remember, four-word process. People around the world want to feel joy at every stage of aging. Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California (Riverside) analyzed studies of identical twins and concluded happiness and joy is 50% genetic, 40% intentional and 10% circumstantial.
Lyubomirsky, author of the best-selling book, “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” says: “Half of your predisposition toward happiness you can’t change. It’s in your genes. Your circumstances—where you live, your health, your work, your marriage—can be tough to change. But most people are surprised that circumstances don’t account for as much of their happiness as they think.”
I am grateful for psychologists who have begun to study positivity with just as much dedication as their predecessors lent to researching depression and negativity. As we learn more about what makes us happy and joyful, and we make some small choices to change things in positive ways, we increase our chances for basking in the golden glow of sunshine.
S.U.N.S. JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK
Feb. 12—Charles Darwin
Feb. 13—Kelly Hu
Feb. 14—Jack Benny
Feb. 15—Susan B. Anthony
Feb. 16—The Weekend (Abel Makkonen Tesfaye)
Feb. 17—Michael Jordan
Feb. 18—Louis Comfort Tiffany
S.U.N.S. JOKES ABOUT JOY
“A professor at a rural community college started the class by asking the students, ‘What is the opposite of joy?’ ‘Sadness,” said one student. And, he asked, ‘The opposite of depression?’ Another student said, ‘Elation.’ Finally, he asked, ‘And how about the opposite of woe?’ An Alabama country boy stood up and said, ‘Well sir, I reckon everybody knows the opposite of woe is giddy up.’”
“One decluttering expert advises clients to donate anything that doesn’t spark joy. But the Salvation Army told me what I wanted to hand off to them would be human trafficking.”
“A married fellow was excitedly jumping for joy and his wife asked him what had gotten him so revved up. He yelled out, ‘I just won the lottery! Pack your bags!’ She got excited and asked, ‘Where are we going?’ He replied, ‘What do you mean, ‘we?’”
ARIZONA PISTACHIO CHOCOLATE VALENTINE’S CANDY
(Source: This easy recipe is from joyfulhealthyeats.com)
Each week, Joy & Gerontology shares a recipe saluting healthy food produced in America. The delicious and nutritious collection is called “The S.U.N.S. USA Longevity Cookbook” and highlights vitamin B-3 (niacin) which many research gerontologists believe hold the promise for a long, healthy, joyful life.
2 (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup pistachios, roughly chopped
1 ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
- Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Spray with cooking spray and set aside.
- Add chips to a medium glass bowl.
- Fill a medium saucepan with 3 inches of water, bring to a boil. Place glass bowl filled with chocolate on top of the saucepan with boiling water. (Essentially you are creating a double boiler.)
- Continue to stir chocolate chips with a spatula as they melt. You want it to be smooth and pourable.
- Pour melted chocolate onto greased baking sheet, spread the chocolate onto baking sheet so it’s about ¼” thick.
- Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and chopped pistachios.
- Place baking sheet in refrigerator for one hour.
- Snap into uneven pieces and share the love.
1,070 JOY-GIVING THINGS FROM MY FIRST 70 YEARS (continued)
139. “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett.
140. ABBA anything.
141. Being introduced to “The Joy of Cooking” by Julia Child.
142. Being introduced to the joy of sex by someone else.
143. “Mighty Mouse” cartoon show theme song.
144. “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” by Joe South.
145. Mullet haircuts: “Business in the front. Party in the back.”
146. Linda Blair’s spinning head.
147. Jambi’s head on “The PeeWee Herman Show.”
148. Pez dispenser heads.
149. The “stadium bleacher” roof on the TKTS book in Times Square.
150. The Thursdays “Styles Section” of “The New York Times.”
151. Knowing accidents caused by water-skiing through a “ring of fire” is covered by Obamacare.
152. Johnny and June.
153. Ward and June.
154. Bridget Riley “Op Art.”
155. Trompe-l’oeil building facades.
157. Dwight Yokum, American joy-giver.
158. “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”
159. The new smell of a schoolbook satchel.
160. The goofiness of the Ford Edsel.
161. Forrest, “Jennay” and a box of chocolates.
HAPPY S.U.N.S. DAYS and VALENTINE’S DAY!