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By Jim Kempton
Doesn’t everyone have a favorite relative? Mine was my Auntie Margaret.
She was one of those special souls who made people feel like they should always be giving each other presents. Every morning felt like Christmas at Margaret’s home.
My aunt could make a card game seem like a visit to Vegas and a simple trip to the grocery store like a shopping spree on the Champs-Élysées. With my aunt behind the wheel, riding in her Chevrolet Impala felt like riding an African Impala.
Margaret never had a big house, expensive furniture, a VIP job or a fancy car. But her house had welcoming warmth; she always left the back porch light on and the key under the mat. I remember every piece of furniture she owned—her armchair and sofa became a symbol of comfort and calm and contentment for more than 50 years. Her delight in even the smallest things made them seem priceless. I learned to treasure her possessions too. They had meaning; they were a reflection of her. Margaret wasn’t looking for things to make her happy; she was already happy looking at all the things she had.
Her secret, I think, was constantly acting out her optimism. My Aunt Margaret made me truly understand that it isn’t the cards we are dealt, it’s how we play them—attitude is more important than aptitude; having our family love us is more important than having anything else in the world; always thinking of and remembering others is so much more rewarding than thinking of ourselves.
In short, Margaret showed us that choosing to be happy is not only an option, but also the secret to a wonderful life. She was my favorite aunt (maybe my favorite person) not because of how much she had but because of how much she gave.
Margaret had a career, too, and in business she led by example. Everyone who ever worked with her (or for her) did better work, had more fun, created greater customer satisfaction and built stronger companies than any other job they ever had.
My aunt had no more opportunities or lucky breaks than the next person. And she certainly had her share of adversity and heartbreak. Yet I never heard a complaint or an unkind word from her—no matter what her own hardship. She never went on holiday to St. Tropez, shopped on Rodeo Drive or dined at Wolfgang Puck’s. But she lived as if she had. Margaret thought of her life as a great and beautiful adventure. And so it was: she somehow understood that a happy life was not about enduring hardships but overcoming them.
In the end, her life was like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: it taught my family what happiness means, what real success is and what love can do. She was living proof that given a glass half empty or half full, choosing the half-full glass always makes the drink taste better. Merry Christmas!
Jim Kempton consults companies on optimizing their business. If the CEOs he advises all experienced the three spirits of Scrooge and operated like his aunt, their corporations would light the world on fire.