There are big life events like births, weddings, graduations, career progression and there are little things like a smile, a walk in nature, the first rain drops after a drought, finding the perfect avocado fruit, patting a pet, watching the children play and these always add up to give us lasting happiness in our lives.
“ Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odourless but all together perfume the air.’’ – George Bernanos
The death of my 102 years old cousin, Norah Nakintu Nsubuga , on the 22nd May 2022, drove me to look at her life and life in general in a different perspective. She was already married by the time I was born and by the time she died, she seemed to have it all. She and her late husband never owned a car; they had a simple home, she was a simple homemaker whose greatest gifts were compassion and generosity. She excelled in caring for her husband, children and friends. She gave without maiming herself or others.
They lost one child in a road traffic accident before their eyes as she quickly crossed the road to meet my father. They had an epileptic son whom they nursed and is alive today, yet epilepsy was not talked about until the 80s. Norah outlived her husband by 20 years.
But she was a contented woman; always appreciating life and appreciating the love around her. She always wore a warm smile no matter what she was going through. She lived joyously in the moment without worrying much about tomorrow.
“Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.’’- Alice Morse Earle
The psychologists tell us that this deep sense of contentment is a result of the release of the “feel good hormones’’: Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin from the brain. The hormones promote positive feelings, including happiness and pleasure. They relax our bodies and we end up feeling less stressed.
The Clinical psychologists advise us to find such lasting happiness in our lives by practising the following every day to boost our happy hormones.
- Be mindful of the small moments, cherish these little moments that often go unnoticed.
- Practice gratitude every day.
- Be kind to others.
- Treat yourself as a friend.
- Strengthen your social connections of family friends, colleagues. Engage and collaborate with them regularly.
- Make self-care as part of your routine.
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Laugh more often every day.
Joy is simply defined as feeling happy, relaxed and feeling contented with things as they are. You are more engaged in the world around you, you share your feelings with others. You create your own happiness in the chaos or calmness around you.
Norah never went beyond primary school, which was the normal for women of her time and yet she inherently followed the list above. For her, there was never an ordinary moment; each moment was special so she collected a treasure trove of beautiful moments over the 102 years she lived!
She was calm, had a gentle voice but could be persuasive at times. In all the years I have known her I have never heard her raise her voice!
Our late aunt saw the potential in Norah and encouraged her to join the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA). She learned to grow vegetables, make crafts from local materials like barkcloth, seeds, sewing, baking bread and cakes in a simple locally designed tin oven over hot coals. Eating such a cake, you could not tell how it had been baked. She was chosen to become a
life member of YWCA. Years back, under the YWCA Heifer Project, she was given a cow and up to today there is a cow and its calf in the pen. YWCA helped to unlock her potential in working with nature and her own hands.
She had green fingers, always had seeds or saplings for local vegetables and fruit trees to share with family and friends. She grew trees for fruits like mangoes, guavas, avocado, jackfruit, soursop, java plum and grape fruit.
No wonder, with her generous heart, no one left her home empty –handed whatever the season.
By sheer coincidence, Norah lived along the way to our ancestral home. From my childhood, one had to make a decision to stop at Norah’s place either on your going or your coming back. What made it gratifying was Norah’s welcoming smile and walking through her vegetable and banana gardens to pick the right bunch of bananas or sugar cane for you. In her gentle but persuasive voice, she would harvest fresh maize and roast it over hot coals for you. She was content just to sit and watch you enjoy the fresh sweet maize kernels.
She would then fill your car boot with anything fresh that she could lay her hands on. One time she gave my mother a small cardboard box only to find a puppy inside! Even after losing her husband of 55 years, her love for the little things in life made life worth living.
Even after celebrating her centenary birthday, she continued spending time in her gardens and none of us could stop her ; because that is what she loved and enjoyed doing.
“ The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate’’ – Oprah Winfrey.
During the times of the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown, she had a way of enquiring about most of us, ensuring that we were safe.
As a woman of her time, she had twelve children. At her 100 years birthday celebration, she had built her own ‘tribe’ of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren!
Norah could be generous to a fault. She weathered many storms but she kept on looking for treasures in her life as she gained more clarity. I greatly admired her attitude of gratitude.
Unknowingly, she lived a big life not only in years but from what was really true about her. By her 50th birthday she really knew who she was- fully human and took responsibility of her life. She became very respectful of herself and then respected people for who they were. She looked inside herself searching to know what was genuinely in her and hers.
She was able to see her inner beauty, intellect, and goodness and used them effectively for herself and others.
“ Let your unique awesomeness and positive energy inspire confidence in others.’’- Unknown
Out of her love for God, she was instrumental in building the village Anglican church right across the road. In the last ten years of her life she focused more on preparing herself for eternity.
When all the children followed their hearts, she learned to relax and love and be loved.
By the time she died, she had healed herself and others and was committed to truth and had great capacity for joy and spontaneity. She had everything she needed to claim her full humanity. She also understood fully her significance in our lives.
Her life has been intimately interwoven with our journeys of life. As for her legacy: she taught us to claim our own lives and transform our lives daily.
Indeed, she is worth the company of angels. May her soul rest in eternal peace.
Are you aware that you are creating your own legacy every day by what you say and do?
Do you really have as much as you think you have?