The French novelist Marcel Proust encouraged us to be grateful for those who make us happy. They are, he said, “charming gardeners who make our souls blossom”. Last month, I received news of a friend who fell ill and had to return home for treatment. Although I’ve known her only a few months, I was deeply saddened to be told of her condition. As someone who studies mindfulness, I know full well that anything can happen to any of us at any time. Nevertheless, I felt it unfair that something so awful should happen to someone so wonderful.
In life, there are people who, just by their presence, can lift the spirits of those around them. Initially, it can seem like it’s an effort to make a good first impression. In this case, it quickly became clear that this was someone whose sole motivation is to leave others happier than she found them.
My friend is someone whose positivity is infectious. I find myself drawn to genuine people who feel at ease being themselves. However, as someone who can be grouchy at times, I am usually wary of overly-positive people. But here was someone whose upbeat nature was so authentic that it was impossible not to be affected by it.
In the short time I’ve been blessed with such a friendship, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons. Chief among these is to take myself – and life – a little less seriously, and to remember to see the joy that life has to offer every day. I also realised, through this person’s delightful example, that happiness really does come from within. We can either engage with life and make the best of our time, or we can complain and dwell, worry and repeat.
When I got word of my friend’s condition, I asked myself why I was so affected. Of course, it was sad to hear, but I felt devastated. On reflection, my sadness arose because such a beautiful person was now facing a tough challenge, and I felt helpless knowing there was nothing I could do for someone who, unknowingly, had done so much for me.
I also despaired at the idea of not seeing my friend for some time, and wishing that I had offered her more kind words of encouragement and gratitude than I had done. It made me realise just how much we can take our friends for granted, particularly the strong ones who seem like they don’t need any care or support for themselves.
Here is a person who always looks out for others, is always on hand to lend her support or a smile regardless of her own struggles, and is relentless in focusing on the joys and blessings of life. The greatest gift we can give anyone is our presence, and my friend is someone who gives so much in abundance.
Often, I think about the ways that people have influenced me, and vice-versa. I realise that I have occasionally fallen short in what it means to be there for others, but the manner in which my friend treats others has affected me in ways I’d never expected. For example, she’s shown me that being there for someone doesn’t require grand gestures; in fact, it’s usually the little gestures, frequently given, that lift people the most.
I’ve also realised that, in the face of real adversity, we needn’t give in to our current circumstances. As the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
It’s truly inspiring to witness people who battle the toughest challenges of their lives and remain unflinching in their determination to never allow their situation to dampen their spirits. Of course, they will have their moments of doubt and despair, but their steely spirit serves as a reminder that there’s nothing we can’t face when we decide there’s nothing we can’t overcome.
The sociology professor and American author Morrie Schwartz advised, “Do the kind of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.”
I was reminded of this advice when I was told of the challenge my friend is facing. I’m glad to know that she receives much love in return for the abundance she gives. If there were more people in the world with her kindness, joy and compassion, there would be so many fewer lost and lonely souls.
If I may, I’d like to end this week’s column with a direct message: If you’re reading this, boss, I hope you know how many people you have influenced and changed for the better. I’m one of those fortunate people, and I feel forever blessed to know you as a friend and inspiration.