Ruth, an inspiring woman of 90, sits comfortably in her living room, her eyes bright with wisdom and a smile that can light up a room. She has lived a life filled with unique experiences, and as we settle in for a conversation, it becomes clear that her journey is a remarkable one.
“Teach people to smile. Smiling is a way of life,” she says, her voice filled with warmth. This simple mantra shapes Ruth’s life and has become her guiding principle. It is the key to her unwavering happiness.
Ruth has played a pivotal role in building a vibrant swimming community in Seaford, East Sussex, which has now grown to include over 650 members. This thriving community is a testament to her enduring dedication and serves as a source of great joy and a profound sense of belonging for its members, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s. Ruth’s community building efforts have provided not just physical exercise but also a deep sense of friendship and shared experiences. The Seaford Mermaids often gather by the sea, regardless of the weather, to swim and share stories, creating bonds that go beyond age and background. In their company, Ruth and her fellow swimmers have found that happiness is not measured by material possessions but by the warmth of human connection and the shared joy of simply being together.
Ruth transitioned from being a man to a woman at the age of 81. Her secret to navigating this transformative phase is evident in her ever-present smile. “I might be reading something in my chair, but I find myself smiling, as that is my way of life now,” she confesses.
Curiosity leads me to ask if she was happy in her earlier life as a man. She pauses, reminiscing, and then replies, “I don’t know. That time feels like a different era. I can’t believe I acted the way I did back then. My mindset has completely changed since becoming a woman.”
For Ruth, happiness is not tied to material wealth. “Money isn’t important. I don’t have a lot. Just enough,” she explains. “We don’t need huge amounts of money to be happy. As long as there’s a little bit of money in the bank for emergencies, that is enough.” Her wisdom is evident in her contentment with the essentials and her firm belief that happiness goes way beyond financial wealth.
“I would rather someone, when they are older, count on their fingers to see if they have enough friends rather than count money,” Ruth says “If I doubled my bank account, it wouldn’t make me any happier.”
As we delve into the topic of ageing, Ruth’s insights are profound. “Happiness and getting older are a mindset,” she declares. “You have to choose what is important to you.” Ruth and her group of friends of all ages see their shared activities as a source of joy, not influenced by material wealth. “The group has contributed to the feeling of happiness. We help each other out. Feeling you are part of the group and that we are there for each other is happiness. You can’t buy this with money.”
We discuss the deep emphasis on status and consumerism in society. “Happiness is the company of other people and doing things together. It doesn’t matter what you are doing. If you have the right companion, then you are fine,” Ruth comments, highlighting the importance of genuine human connections.
When asked if she feels happier as she gets older, Ruth chuckles. “Oh yes. When I was younger, I had this belief that I wouldn’t live beyond the year 2000. When I achieved it, I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ I was born in 1933, so at 67, I felt I had a new life ahead of me.”
Her advice to the younger generation is clear. “Make sure you are fit and keep exercising. Don’t sit down and think you can take it easy. There is a new life ahead of you, and that new life can give you a boost if you choose to keep doing things.”
As our conversation draws to a close, I ask Ruth if there is one wish to improve her life. Her response is genuine and reflective: “I wouldn’t say it is happiness, but I would like to be able to take away the inconveniences, for example, my poor eyesight. It isn’t living up to the rest of my body. If I could take away the restrictions, then I would find that a benefit. I don’t want a million pounds to travel the world; I just want my sight back to normal.”
Ruth’s final piece of advice resonates deeply, “Teaching people to smile. If they are smiling, they are happy. These are all part of getting something out of life that is not programmed for you. Smiling and saying hello to people is part of the formula to say that I am as good as anyone else, and I like you as a person, you are as good as anybody else, and we are going to smile at each other and say good morning to each other.”
In a world obsessed with consumerism and technology, Ruth is a living testament to the simple yet profound power of a genuine smile and human connection. Happiness, as she demonstrates, is a way of life, and it is never too late to embrace it.