Happiness Later in Life

Has anyone seen the movie Living?  I saw it this evening.

I must admit that it brought a tear to my eye.

Bill Nighy plays an old man living in the outskirts of London with his son and daughter in law.  He commutes on the train every day to work in the Department of Public Works in the County government Hall somewhere in London.

Everyday is the same.  His schedule never changes.  He is dour, with very little interaction with others.  He addresses everyone and is addressed by everyone else as Mister.  No one ever uses a first name.

He supervises four other staff.  Each of their desks in the office has a pile of files waiting to be reviewed and acted upon by the DPW.  Rather than move requests and items of work through the system quickly the common standard is to delay and have as tall as pile of folders to be acted upon as possible.  It is bureaucracy to the nth degree.

This daily routine of drudgery is disrupted by a visit to his doctor’s office where Bill Nighy is informed that he has 6 months plus or minus to live.

What happens next is what the movie is all about.  How he decides to live and act and interrelate for his remaining days is something to observe.  He gradually and slowly transforms himself to being someone who is open to the new ideas, who genuinely cares about others, who wants to be helpful to others, who undertakes small acts of kindness, who wants to get things done sooner rather than later, and who wants to help younger, next generation individuals in particular.   He does this in his own non flashy, understated, very conservative way.

But the impact this transformation has on the Nighy character and on others he comes into contact with is amazing.

Not everyone benefits from this transformation.  Unfortunately, his son, whom he loves so dearly, is not a beneficiary of this new and different man.  In fact, Nighy cannot bring himself to tell his son what is going on, what he is facing.  His son is left in the dark.  The father son interaction is tough to sit through.

Nevertheless, the movie tells a story that makes you think, makes you ponder.  Myself, and several others in the theater, stayed in our seats for several minutes after the movie had finished – just absorbing what we had just witnessed.  It is a thought-provoking film about how we live our lives and what legacy we leave for others.

An ongoing 84-year-old study currently conducted by Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Robert Waldinger says that the secret to happiness is keeping in contact with others and cultivating and nurturing those relationships.  Those that are intentional about making good relationships and nurturing them are the happiest. They are intentional about it.  He says this is true for any age, but especially true later in life.

Bill Nighy’s character followed this only for the last six months of his life, but the movie Living sure underscored for me the validity of the Harvard study.

Intentional is a word that I am not going to forget.


5 thoughts on “Happiness Later in Life”

  1. everyone has different plights in life.. what is good for the gander.. may not be good for the wombat..consequently surveys are inconsequential..

  2. Never underestimate a well conducted study! Lots of truth in this movie and the Harvard conclusion. Unbeknownst to the aforementioned above by Neil I’ve done my best to practice these tenets, in person, by email and by a thoughtful annual letter to those who mean.so much to me, usually at Christmas.

  3. Great blog. Hopefully, most of us demonstrate this before a devastating diagnosis. You certainly do, Neil, in your actions, keeping in touch via frequent phone calls, advanced memory making family adventures and gatherings with friends old and new.
    Recently you added the importance of a handwritten note.
    Wishing you an early happy birthday🎂🎶

  4. Neil –

    Great blog! The Harvard study is famous and certainly appl[es to all of us.

    Take care! Clip

  5. One of the greatest gifts we have is the ability to communicate with each other…you have that gift to the fullest Neil. I hope this next generation doesn’t lose it. The ability to tell each other how we feel is so important…and if it’s Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook so be it…just so they keep talking! Myself, I’ll stick to the good old written word.

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