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What Two Men In Their 90s Taught Us About Happiness

Bernard, our upstairs neighbor, had just turned 94 (years old!) when he first began to learn how to use a desktop computer. He would send us an email every weekday morning for almost the entire next four years until he passed away.

The email was simple: It contained a brief yet formal, “Good morning,” and then a joke, and then his name. 

(Bernard never owned a smartphone.)

The jokes ranged from one-liners to short-story length, but they were always “clean” and often induced groans (they were soooo corny). But the thought of this little elderly man, a Holocaust survivor, beginning his day trying to make others smile was heartwarming to the max.

And smile we did.

In fact, starting our workday with a joke ended up teaching us both something profound. We already woke up each morning with prayer and meditation and coffee (and occasionally breakfast if we were attempting to be virtuous, if not a second cup of coffee.) And certainly, faith gave us a lot of motivation to get out of bed and get moving.

We both have many other people who count on us for all kinds of help, inspiration, and professional advice, so being needed is another motivating force.

The sheer busyness of our day necessitates pretty much hurling ourselves out of bed, yet it was the anticipation of meaningfulness and joy that fueled us.

Happiness and Meaningfulness

Happiness has 17 possible ways of being shown  through facial expressions, more than any other emotion among the 35 universal facial expressions. It seems we are designed to be–and share–happiness.

Back to Bernard: He was happy the last years of his life, in some ways, he confided, more than ever before, despite terribly missing his wife of more than sixty years who had passed away a few years before we got to know him in his early 90s.

Bernard’s happiness is only part of what actually prompted this post. I met someone else who radiated joy, and he reminded me of Bernard (he seemed even more joyful than Bernard.) He had many ailments, whereas Bernard was healthy right up until the year before he died. I had a conversation with my new friend, who is 92, and this is what I discovered about happiness:

  1. Authentic happiness occurs when meaningfulness is present.
  2. Authentic happiness can also occur when one let’s go of expectations and just is thankful to be alive (which generally, but perhaps not always, coincides with meaningfulness).
  3. Happiness is a choice, if you choose to be happy, you will be happy–in most situations (except perhaps crises.)
  4. If you keep on choosing to be happy, it will be come a habit, and practically a reflex.
  5. Sadness (and any negative feeling) can become a habit, too.
  6. You can forget how to be happy.
  7. You can practice being happy.

We were both there when Bernard left this world. He was actually at moments more joyful than we had ever seen him. He had regained his faith in the last few years of his life. He was smiling as he grasped my hand for the last time, telling me that that God had sent angels to welcome him to his new home.

This post is dedicated to our friend Bernard on the anniversary of his death. He is missed.

What Two Men In Their 90s Taught Us About Happiness

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). What Two Men In Their 90s Taught Us About Happiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Jan 2019
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