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You don't need perfection to be happy

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

"Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means you've decided to look beyond the imperfections."

— Unknown

Have you ever met someone that made you smile just to see them? There was something in their spirit that made them very special and you found yourself smiling and laughing more just being in their presence. If they were talking about something you didn't really have an interest in, you found yourself still enjoying the conversation and felt your heart lifted.

I can think of several people I've met over the years who have this uncanny ability to make others smile. One was John, a janitor who worked in the Health Physical Education & Recreation Department at the University of Kentucky. He had an 8th-grade education and worked at the college for over 25 years. He told me he planned to spend retirement fishing. I never saw him without a smile on his face and never heard anything negative come out of his mouth. He always told me, "Never let anyone steal your joy."

The second person who comes to mind is my sister, Dayna. She's been practicing medicine for close to 30 years. Her smile lights up the room and her patients love her. She's been the glue that holds the family together in times of crisis and has given so much of her time, energy and love to us all.

The third person who comes to mind is my hairdresser, Mattie. Her smile, energy, laughter and zeal for adventure and life are contagious. Every time I see her, whether early in the morning working out at the YMCA, or when she's on the job, her spirit is high and her warmth is felt.

The fourth person I think of that brings happiness to others is a YMCA Zumba instructor, Kelly. Kelly's can-do attitude, creative style, energy and positive outlook — not to mention her beautiful smile — bring positive energy into every room she enters.

The four individuals mentioned above are different in so many ways — education, income level, origins, ethnicity, life experiences and age. Yet, each of these joyful people has a few things in common.

They all have dreams and goals. Life is not something to watch go by, but rather something they choose to embrace and experience with enthusiasm. Even the most mundane events of life can be positive when faced with gusto.

Second, these people choose to be positive when negative situations occur and don't hesitate to laugh at themselves, making others feel very comfortable and relaxed in their presence. In the case of Kelly, her Zumba class participants quickly realize that her class is an upbeat, non-judgmental experience. They can have a great time getting healthy, even if their hips don't move quite the same way as the other Zumba students.

Finally, all the people mentioned above are encouragers. My mother always said, "If you don't have something nice to say about someone, then don't say anything at all." This is good advice, because it's unlikely that most of us understand how our actions or words can profoundly affect others. What a difference you could make in someone's life if you made a decision to be an encourager. You never know when someone might really be in need of an encouraging word.

Happiness does not depend on income level, origin, ethnicity, age, or life experience. You can choose to smile, say a kind word, dream big, be a friend, give of your time and talents, and leave every situation better than you found it. This reminds me of something I read many years ago titled, "All I Ever Needed To Know, I Learned in Kindergarten":

Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw some and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out in the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why. We are like that.

And then remember that book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK! Everything you need to know is there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology, and politics and the sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put thing back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Mary Ganzel works at the Albany Area YMCA as senior program director. She has a master's degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She's been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.