April of 2009 was a pivotal month for Robin Mather. Within a week, the Chicago Tribune food writer was hit with a wicked one-two punch. One, her husband of 12 years wanted a divorce. Two, she was being laid off.
And while in her new book, The Feast Nearby, in which she shares how she ultimately learned to land on her feet again and live on $40 a week, her story had me wondering: how do you find happiness when the ground just shifts beneath your life like that? Can you find the same level of happiness? Better? I asked Mather to find out.
Q: After going through these major changes in your life so close together, how did you find happiness again?
A: The key difference I’ve observed between optimists and pessimists is that optimists look forward and pessimists look backward. And I am fortunate to be one of those people whose glass is not only half-full but it’s getting fuller. So fairly early on I realized there’s still a rainbow—it’s a different rainbow—but there’s still a pot of gold at the end. And life goes on and it’s our challenge to make the best of it we can.
The first few months I was at our cottage in Michigan that we’d bought as a retirement place–it was very isolated and I probably needed that for a time to give myself a chance to heal. But as that began to occur I began to be able to become friends with people. I was in a position where I could accept friendship and that’s the key. Being embedded in a community helps you heal, it helps you see the worth of the world around you.
And also for me, a great deal of healing comes from close contact with nature. I made sure that I got out for a walk in the woods every day with my dog and spent time watching the small birds and the bigger water birds on the lake. Any kind of contact with nature I could have I went out of my way to obtain it.
Q: What is it about nature that made you calm and happy?
A: It connects me to a sense that I, and whatever is going on in my life, am not the most important thing going on in the world. That helps me gain and retain a sense of perspective. There’s the expression of “that which does not kill you makes you stronger.” And we have horrible problems in our life, but if they don’t kill you, you can handle them. It’s not going to be necessarily fun or easy but your resources are going to get you through that.
Today, my pets give me a great deal of joy. I moved to Topeka to come to work at Mother Earth News at the end of April and I left that small cottage on the lake and landed on a small farmhouse on 10 acres. So it’s a different kind of beauty but it’s still very beautiful. Whenever you go through a big transition like this, it’s important to give yourself permission to take time to adapt to it.
Q: What advice do you have for our readers who might be going through their own challenges?
A: Look forward. You can’t change what’s happened so look forward and pay attention to how you want your world to be and figure out how you can move your world toward that. If you’re investing your emotional energy in looking backward and grieving and feeling angry about what’s happened in the past, you’re consuming valuable energy that won’t let you invest in what you want to happen in your future. That’s the key to resilience. To look forward instead of backward.
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