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Revealed! The Winners of The Ethel's Happiness Contest

Find out what makes these women happy.

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3 photo collage of contest winners
Ethel Staff
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We asked you all to tell us what makes you happy — and you responded. There were hundreds of wonderful essays but below are the winners and a few honorable mentions. If you want to connect with other women and make friends, please consider joining The Ethel Circle, our closed Facebook group for older women seeking connections.

Emily Davis, 64 — First-Place Winner

selfie of winning woman

At 64 years old, I’ve found happiness by trying my medium-ist. I no longer must be first, best, thinnest, strongest, fastest, most successful at everything in my life and 20 years ago, that would have concerned me. Now, I am perfectly ok with “average." And that makes me happy — not deliriously happy, not over-the-top, life-is-a-Disney-movie, hop-out-of-bed-with-a-spring-in-my-step-and-a-smile-on-my-face happy, but ordinary happy.

I don’t own a home, but I live with my brother for a reasonable amount of rent. I have a job I don’t love, but I don’t hate that provides me with an income that is more than I’ve ever made, and places me firmly in the middle class. I have two grown sons who are neither millionaires nor paupers, although both are extraordinarily good-looking, funny and successful in their own rights. Motherhood is one thing I did in an above-average manner.

I own a paid-off, 12-year-old average brown vehicle with a few bumps, dings and quirks that gets me where I want to go with a minimum of fuel. I have friends I can call in an emergency or for a spontaneous dinner. I sing in a choir where I’m not the best but I’m not the worst singer. At 5 foot 6 and 180 pounds, I wear a size 14 or medium, and after years of moderate effort diet and exercise, I am happy with that. My 5-minute makeup routine doesn’t take 15 years off my face, but maybe a believable 7.5. The perfect weather in my world is 70 degrees and sunny so I can wear shorts and a sweatshirt.

I don’t have a mediocre life, far from it. I even have moments of exceptional happiness, but over my medium-sized coffee in the morning, I’m content with the ordinary, everyday, most-common-but-rarely-acknowledged kind of happy.

Janet Blaser, 68 — Second-Place Winner

woman in ocean leaning on surfboard

I re-discovered the happiness of playing when I started surfing at age 55.

A few years earlier, I’d moved to the Pacific coast of Mexico. I spent many hours soaking up the sun on the beach, jumping into the ocean to cool off. I’d watch the surfers, who seemed to be dancing as they stood up and rode the waves. When they came back to shore, they were glowing, with ear-to-ear smiles and a tangible joy that radiated around them. What was going on out there — and could I experience it too?!

I decided to try, and for months I bungled my way through heaps of lessons, hours of practice, and all sorts of equipment, determined to get better. Pretty much clueless, sunburned and sore all over, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was proud of myself each time I stood up — or tried to! At the same time, it was impossible not to laugh at myself as I fell off the surfboard in a million ridiculous ways.

I found myself bursting with a newfound happiness that transformed my daily life. I felt energized, content, grateful and excited to do it again.

More than a decade later, at 68, I still secretly smile all day after I’ve gone surfing. I’m still not very good, and, as the oldest woman in the line-up, I’ll admit to some envy at the agility of the younger-bodied folks. But all it takes is one wave — or one silly wipe-out — and I’m laughing again.

Surfing isn’t for everyone, of course. But adding delirious fun — otherwise known as play — into your life is something anyone can do. All it requires is the innocence, trust, and faith of a child, with no worries about your ability or experience, how you look, or what the score is. Play is about letting go and simply having fun. And isn’t that what we all want to do?


Lynn Vitale, 70 — Third-Place Winner

Woman holding pickle ball racket

As an upbeat, energetic and positive person, I have never given much thought to “happy." However, “that happy” seemed to explode over the last 9 years following my divorce. Why? Because I have found a passion for so many new things.

The need to find single friends, introduced me to Meetups where I met some of my best friends today, often difficult at this age. Having these friends to go to (singles) dances brought more “happy”. Who knew I could love dancing that much?

I’ve never been an athlete but started playing pickleball. The “happy” came through loud and clear when I realized I was laughing more than hitting the ball . . . and no one cared!

Couldn’t ask for more pleasure in my twice-a-week mah-jongg games. It had been 40+ years since I played regularly. It’s like riding a bike, you never forget how, and mingling with these ladies and a gentleman, by the way, brings me more “happy”!

What good fortune I have that my best friend, who moved to Arizona, allowed me the opportunity to push myself to get on a plane, solo. To my amazement, I’ve grown tremendously. Our times together, shopping, dining and laughing are “happy” and beyond!

I find contentment at home and satisfaction in cooking, cleaning and even pulling weeds from my garden. Somehow, there is much “happy” when you find that fulfilling.

At the top are the family blessings that surround me — my children and Grandchildren, who make my life overflow with “happy”.

“Happy” feels like the sun is shining all the time and that feeling doesn’t change if there’s a need for sunglasses; it doesn’t take away from the feeling. Life is great, and going through it “happy” makes it all worthwhile!

And here are a few "honorable mentions" that we loved!

Jennifer Castor

For the past 22 years, I have served as a caregiver working with the elderly to help them remain in their homes. I started as a caregiver helping my mother and later my brother. Afterwards, I worked as a freelance caregiver for many people in my community. Somewhere in my soul, I must need to help. For the last two years, I have served as a "professional volunteer".  If there is a non-profit in my area that needs volunteers - I'm there,  I have weeded flower beds for the hospice facility, washed linen for the men's homeless shelter, given rides to people who no longer drive and am currently a foster mother to a senior cat from our local animal shelter.  This has greatly helped my mental health and my sociability.  When volunteering you meet some of the nicest and happiest people.  There is now a group of eight of us who work together as a group to help anyone or any organization that needs help,  You don't have to go far to find someone who needs help.  Look at your neighborhood.  Do you have a neighbor whose grass always needs cutting or a neighbor who, due to mobility issues, can no longer walk to the mailbox to pick up their mail? I am 77 years old and live alone with my foster cat, Mia.  Volunteering has lifted my spirits and now my calendar is full of volunteer opportunities.  
 
Jean M. Grenier

Happiness is a choice. At the age of 64, I have found that the things that make me the happiest have nothing to do with material things.  I never was a shopper anyway (My mom cured me of that when I was a kid!).   I love hiking, preferably with one other person, and challenging myself on the trails.  Being in nature is a sure way to beat the blues.  I have to say what gives me the greatest joy is when I find an opportunity to help a random stranger that I come across.  It can be as simple as helping a woman in a boot with an injury, loading her heavy items in her car, help a woman carry the tables and chairs she borrowed from the church that she's struggling to do herself because no one else showed up to help as promised, or bringing lunch and drinks to the elderly gentleman whose tractor-trailer broke down and he'd been sitting there for hours.  All of these examples, and others, gave me the chance to brighten someone's day and I get great satisfaction out of being of service.I have also recently discovered stoic philosophy.  This has taught me that I have control over how I respond to people and events, not what they say or do, or what happens, and this has freed me to reconsider how I respond.  In turn, I decide whether or not I choose to let something ruin my day.  It has given me more patience and empathy and I find I don't let things bother me as much anymore.  This doesn't mean life is easy.  I have challenges like everyone else, but with my new perspective, I feel I can choose to be happy in spite of it.

Constance Faye Mudore

At age 70, I have found happiness in a second career. My career choice may sound anything but joyful. However, as a hospice chaplain, I have found my niche. For a couple of decades, I was a school counselor. It was a demanding yet rewarding job that helped me grow but not in the ways that hospice does. When people find out what I do, they often say, "That must be difficult work. God bless people like you who can do hospice."While I agree that it's challenging, it's not nearly as difficult as being a school counselor. This may seem odd but working with young people who were struggling with academic failure, poverty and abuse was often heartbreaking. Hospice isn't. My job involves working with elders who are coming to terms with death. It may sound grim but it has helped to ground me.  It's helped me to see the joy in the small but miraculous gifts present in each day of life...tulips blooming on a spring day, the sound of a baby's laugh, talking with a good friend. The small things that are so often taken for granted by most people except by those who are aware that death is close at hand. Being a hospice chaplain has helped me become much less afraid of death. I now see it as a necessary part of life--a passageway to what comes next. I don't claim to know exactly what comes after death. That may sound strange coming from a chaplain. But hospice isn't about life after death. It's about helping someone live the best life they can while they are drawing breath. Even though I'm not actively dying, hospice has helped me to do the same.
 
Beatrice Hogg

“BANG YOUR HEAD!”

I only attempt a fast, rhythmic half-bang, but the smile on my face says it all. I love metal. I discovered Led Zeppelin in the mid-seventies and the sound of loud guitars, rumbling basses, and earth-moving drums have rocked my world ever since.

Did I mention that I am a 67-year-old, African American woman? For decades, I have experienced that double take when I entered a club or concert hall. But these days, I no longer care. The music that I love makes me happy. Metallica roars through my shower speaker as I start my day. I crunch down my cereal with some Iron Maiden. At the gym, I’ll pedal to the metal of Motorhead. From the minute I wake up until bedtime, metal is the soundtrack to my life.

In 2022, I won two VIP passes worth $600 each for the four days of Aftershock, the huge outdoor metal festival held in Sacramento every October. From the time I walked through the turnstile on that first evening, I was in heaven. Electricity coursed through my veins. My heart thrummed to the beats coming from the four stages. It didn’t matter that I had metal t-shirts older than some of my fellow metalheads. Even though I rarely drank and never smoked, I was intoxicated by the sound. This year, Iron Maiden is headlining Aftershock. I hope that I win tickets again.

The power, intensity and passion of metal makes me shout, laugh, even cry. It makes me feel alive and filled with energy, no matter what it says on my birth certificate. Like the Mr. Big song says, “I’m addicted to that rush.” I always will be, even when my head bang has metamorphized into a slow disjointed nod.

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