My favorite teacher of all time was my English teacher my senior year of high school. Ms. Lee.
She was strict and had very high standards, but she also had a patient, soft side.
When I was in the throes of deep teenage angst over the end of my first relationship, she sat with me for many hours, talked to me with genuine interest and compassion. Something about her suggested that maybe she too had a tortured side, and this was how she could understand without any judgement.
She was quirky and a little mysterious and paid me compliments for random attributes like my knees and eyebrows.
Her presence in my life made me feel worthwhile, intelligent, beautiful, and like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
She took time with me that no one else did. I had a very small social circle at the time, and felt alone. I had a tendency to shut down and isolate, but Ms. Lee helped me feel connected and conscious.
I kept in touch with her for a while after graduation, through letters and the occasional tea. As so often is the case, we lost contact with one another. A few years back, I tried to search for her on the internet, and also by calling my former high school. I never found her. It has crossed my mind that she would be elderly now or possibly no longer on the planet.
One thing I learned from my high school English teacher, Ms. Lee, was the secret to happiness.
Ms. Lee had a banner up across one of the walls of her classroom. It was printed out on one of those dot-matrix printers that now seem so old timey. In grey pixilated letters, it read: The secret to happiness is having something to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.
Over the years, these words have rung true time and time again. Note that they do not say “someone” to love or look forward to. They encourage self reliance and self esteem. They encourage a person to develop a strong sense of self, to connect with inner strength and confidence.
Over the years, that “something” might change. It has for me. In high school and college, it was dance. Then, in my twenties, I went for a time when I didn’t have a “something” and sort of floundered in depression and weirdness. Grad school and social work definitely gave me something to love, do and look forward to.
And these days, I have my children and family.
I remember a moment so long ago when I thanked her for her kindness.
“Along the way, people have been kind to me, and this is my way of returning the favor.”
In other words, she was “paying it forward” nearly two decades before that saying was en vogue.
I think of her words often. I like to think that in some way I am repaying her when I sit with my clients. Many times I repeat her secret of happiness to them, and think fondly on Ms. Lee.
What do you think are the secrets to happiness?
Ps, I made the meme at the top myself– my very first!