God, Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The Serenity Prayer, by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr
“The happier person is the one who acknowledges
and accepts life won't get any better
― Anthony Liccione
Well That Ends Well.”
Approximate period of time covered: 2010 to 2020
Location: Brazil, UK and Portugal
When I hear my husband Albert and my friend Beth Lima talk animatedly about the numerous people they knew in the city of Belo Horizonte, it makes me realise that I knew very few people. And I recall the
fact that we were shunned there because people did not like my father, but I at an early age had innocently wondered why I was disliked and never invited to anything as I had never been guilty of anything at all.
As I grew up and eventually became seriously devoted to my studies either at home or later abroad, I continued being in town maligned as to acquire enemies to plague me for a lifetime. And to this day, whenever I am there, I notice
strange looks towards me, or little signs or occasional words that imply that I am not respected, that my words are doubted, or that something inappropriate is often expected of me.
once at a dinner party when my husband and I told someone our platonic love story that happened when we were still in our teens, that person exclaimed, “That is surely not true!” On another occasion a doctor paid us a visit to see my little son
who was ill. At the end of the consultation he asked me how I was. I told him that I was fine and was following his advice about doing exercise. Pointing to another room, I invited him to see what I had put in it. He looked at me as if he was wary of going
into the room. But when he did summon the courage I showed him the treadmill I had bought.
More recently, in a meeting with solicitors to discuss the latest legal consequences of my father’s
extramarital life, at times I see a solicitor grin as if there were something amusing about the subject. That never fails to make me reflect of why anyone would think that we are sufficiently liberal to be amused by such accounts. And throughout these painful
meetings, which I assume to be like sessions in purgatory, we have to sit and suffer for the sins of others, motionless in stony silence.
So after a great deal of unpleasantness, as well as personal
threats, false accusations, attempted blackmail and defamation of character, I have learned to deal with stress in a way that does not cause me to lose my strength. And the most important technique that I make use of is to take advantage of the curative powers
of sleep. So, when I hear some very bad news which may affect me I automatically feel very tired and as soon as possible I retreat into solitary confinement. Thus in a silent and darkened room I lie down in a comfortable bed until the sleep of traumatic exhaustion
takes over. There is nothing like long hours of uninterrupted slumber, preferably more than eight, to restore the body and the mind.
Reading is another healthy form of escape, from which I have benefited
for most of my life. Deep concentration on the story being read brings the brain relief by allowing it the forget the torment for a while. And in the last few years I have at last found one more way of changing my mental focus. I can spend long stretches of
time writing, day after day, not only in order to understand the sequence of events that caused distress, but also in to the conviction that my writing will one day assist me in my defence.
effective, these three techniques must be exercised in a pleasant environment as to achieve a level of relaxation akin to meditation. For the sleep technique, my room has to be not only comfortable and organised, but also beautiful. The book being read
has be interesting and fun, and the purpose of my writing must be important to me so as to cause me to be in a constant state of enthusiasm over it, which happens often enough. When I was small I remember my grandmother Teresa telling me that sleep was the
best thing in the world. At the time I could not understand this at all and told her that I thought too much sleep was a waste of time. Though I am still not as old as she was then, I now believe she was right.
In my parents’ home my bedroom was the most beautiful in the house, and also the largest, as it was originally intended for both daughters of the house. I adored it and still revisit
it often in my dreams. There, every evening, once I had drawn the curtains for the night and slipped beneath the blankets in the winter, peace reigned through long hours of uninterrupted rest. So the pleasant memories of my room have remained with me ever
But when I was married to Hades sleep became a bone of contention. Being who he was, Mephistopheles did not require much
rest, and his Persephone did not take kindly to having her rest disturbed in any way. Consequently, we had endless and pointless arguments on the subject of the correct amount sleep needed for a normal person. After all these years I still think that happiness
is largely depended on a good and long night’s sleep, after which the problems of the previous day are compartmentalised and ordered in the mind, becoming clearer as a consequence. Poor Hades. I wonder if he is still assailed by tormented sleepless nights.
The Gautama Buddha, who lived in eastern India in about the 5th century BC, taught his followers that unhappiness derives from the
incessant habit of judging every experience as pleasant or unpleasant, and being too concerned about this classification. And Epictetus, a Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher (c. AD 55 – 135) who was born a slave in an area which is now part of Turkey,
taught that external events are determined by fate and are thus beyond our control. But we are responsible for our own actions, which must be guided by rigorous self-discipline. He wrote: "Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it
Much later, in 1801, Friedrich Schiller advocated: "Blessed is he, who has learned to bear what he cannot change, and to give up with dignity, what he cannot save." But it is indeed
hard to try to learn from such great masters. In England, after the beginning of the 2nd millennium AC, I took a series of courses on the subject of poetry at a school called the Citi-Lit. In one of these classes we were asked to compose instant
short verses on various subjects. And some of the suggested themes were:
Black and grey sketch the contours of distant hills
Far on the horizon, while heavy clouds hide the sun
From our view, as dark shadows tint the colours
Of a dream as to form a threat to peace,
Announced by loud and discordant sounds.
A day dawns as first light appears on the horizon,
a new cycle, the beginning of the future,
So new and fresh and full of hope, the peaceful thoughts
immerge into consciousness as a guide.
I must follow the path projected in my waking dreams.
The colours that surround me will never let me down,
Be the blue sky, or my favourite shades of green,
Will help me see the way through one more day.
A. Gouthier, London Oct. 2010
And now we must dwelt on the subject of happiness. This has been defined as a passing state
of mind associated mostly with positive and pleasant emotions. A number of biological, psychological, philosophical or even spiritual approaches have tried to explain happiness, or to identify its sources. But there is however, that aspect of happiness that
depends only upon us to keep alive and about that force within ourselves that retains our spirits in an elevated state is enthusiasm.
On that particular day I wrote:
I am feeling positive! And I do try so hard
To keep up this lovely mood, to make it
strength, and hence to colour sadness,
Or to mould my chances into certainties.
I keep up the life-force, building my luck
Over good days and dark days when I hide
From the world and myself, as not to allow
Darkness to grow and to possess my soul.
On bad days I exist without thoughts,
By mechanical actions and reactions,
Choices or decisions avoided, as not
Be guided by dark or harmful forces.
When the sun again shines inside the mind,
My aura brightens as one day it is sure to do,
As it reflects the colours of the rainbow,
And thus a full life cycle is at last completed.
AG November 2010
Dr Amit Sood, who is the author of a new book 'The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness: A Four-Step Plan for Resilient Living’, led research on how to increase positive moods and make the most of our strengths. He says 40 to 50 per cent of our
happiness depends on the choices we make, and where we place the emphasis of each day. “You can choose to live, focussing on what is right and beautiful in your life,” says Dr Sood, “as happiness is a habit. For some of us that habit is a
natural inclination; for others it is a learned behavior.”
The same can be said for peacefulness. We must determine what brings us peace of mind and as much as possible we must live in an environment
that help us to achieve our peacefulness. And consequently seriously avoid people or situations that are likely to cause tension. Just like a cocoon is necessary for the caterpillar to turn into a butterfly, and a cosy lair helps bears to survive the frigid
winters, I need to surround myself with order, beauty and silence as to maintain my balance. I give great attention to the décor of my homes in a way that pleases me, with no concern for fashion, and I keep them in the most perfect order. And specially
when silence reigns I am at peace.
Our personality is the combination and organisation of our behavioural or emotional tendencies and attitudes, which form our specific character and make us whom
we are. It has been said that most people’s minds tend to dwell mainly on negative experiences, whereas true optimists have a tendency to see a glass as half full rather than half empty. This is a quality that can surely affect mental and physical health.
I am not sure whether I am often fortunate or an inveterate optimist, but for me things always end up turning for the best. I could think of so many occasions when I was saved from fortuity by some unexpected
event. Or am I always able to pick from the choices at hand, convincing myself that it was the best for me? The latest research shows that optimism, with a dose of realism, is the best way to promote resilience and to realise one's goals. So even though I
am always on my guard against people’s bad intentions, and habitually try to read their minds through the strict observation of body language, I always eventually find something positive even in the most horrid situations.
So I had to learn to live with all the overt unpleasantness that surrounded my family so as not to allow it to dampen my spirits and destroy my life. But I also took definite steps towards finding an environment
where anonymity facilitated my contentment.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and
not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long
after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
By Rudyard Kipling, 1865–1936
In the Southern Hemisphere the yearly cycles start in March, when the Summer holidays
are ended, Carnaval is past and a new school year is just starting. But in the Northern Hemisphere, it is September that marks the beginning of the yearly cycle, when people come back from their holidays and school starts, the tourists go back home,
and life goes back to its normal pace. And soon the leaves will start to change their colour to the yellows and reds of autumn. I have loved this season best since I went to Pennsylvania and then to Massachusetts for university in the sixties.
What better place then New England could there be to fall in love with the colours of nature? Nowhere! There when winter came, heavy snow flecks danced
down my window, or whirled about over the Charles River as tugboats chucked past carrying their loads. At those times life was happy with the enthusiasm of achievement and heavy with the volume of work assigned, which never ceased to be dished out with every
week that came along.
Some years later, now in old England, I learned to love the flowers of spring that lasted into the mellow
summer days, until it all went back to the beginning again, autumn. This part of me that fell in love with the northern seasons thinks in English, and nowadays has no-one to converse with, in the language of my mind. So I silently talk to myself and my words
go unheard. So I often write them, as to free them from their circumstantial solitude.
I have now chosen Lisbon as my secondary
European home, in which to wallow the warm Springs as well as the torrid Summers in my lovely house by the Mulberry trees. But every year when Autumn comes I will return to London where my heart lives. And here I quote William Blake, in Fragments from
Auguries of Innocence:
‘To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.’
And finally, I sum this book with a quotation from Stephanie S. Tolan:
“Part book about creativity, part compendium of useful titbits,
quotations and research results, and part annotated
this is a wildly useful and highly entertaining resource.”