- Listen to Ron's Interview with John Leland -
Lessons from the ‘Oldest Old’: Happiness is a Choice We Make
Several years ago, John Leland, a reporter for the New York Times, wrote a series of articles following six men and women for a year, chronicling how people in one of America’s fastest growing demographic groups—those 85 and older—led their lives. The series became the basis for his book, “Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year among the Oldest Old,” which became a Times bestseller, and as he wrote in the Times, “No work I have ever done has brought me as much joy and hope, or changed my outlook on life as profoundly.” In today’s episode, Leland talks about his experiences writing this remarkable, hopeful and often surprising book, and the lessons he learned about our pursuit of happiness. Certainly, the examination of “happiness” in today’s frenetic society has become a frequent topic in recent years, the source of best-selling books and wildly popular courses among Harvard and Yale students. But Leland’s unique perspective explores what sociologists often point to as the paradox aging: How can people whose bodies and minds are in decline be happier than those in the “prime of life?” He’ll explain what happiness means, relating it to a sense of fulfillment and purpose, and how a positive attitude can help contribute to overall health and longevity. As he takes us along his heartfelt journey with these elders, Leland talks about the role of gratitude in fostering happiness; how older people find happiness alongside great pain, hardship and loss; and how to live in the moment—still thinking about living long—but not forever. Leland, who previously dubbed himself a chronic “grumpasaurus,” offers a valuable collection of lessons he learned from the oldest old, noting that the good things in life—happiness, purpose, contentment and love—are there all along, whether we’re young or old. We just need to choose them.
John Leland is a reporter for The New York Times, best-selling author and public speaker. In his 30-plus years in journalism, John has gone from chronicling youth culture to writing about the “oldest old.” A graduate of Columbia College, he worked as a senior editor at Newsweek and editor-in-chief of Details magazine before joining The New York Times in 2000. In 2015, he wrote a year-long series following six people aged 85 and up, which became the basis for his book “Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year among the Oldest Old,” a Times bestseller. As he wrote in the Times, “No work I have ever done has brought me as much joy and hope, or changed my outlook on life as profoundly.” He is the author of two previous books: “Hip: The History” and “Why Kerouac Matters.”
To read the final piece of John Leland's series in The New York Times on a set of the oldest New Yorkers, chronicled over seven years, click here: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/06/nyregion/ruth-willig-oldest-new-yorkers.html#commentsContainer