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Author: Karen Wilson

Review of FINDING ME by Viola Davis

Viola Davis would probably not be the first name that comes to mind for most people if asked to specify an award-winning actress. My only acquaintance with her work was a random discovery of the TV series How to Get Away with Murder when it was screened on eTV a few years ago. Something about the gritty legal thriller and its imposing female lead had me engrossed.

Since reading her 2022 autobiography, I now know that Viola Davis has won all the prestigious performance awards – the Tony, an Emmy, an Oscar, as well as a recent Grammy for the audio narration of her memoir; to date, only 18 actors have achieved all four and earned the distinction of becoming an “EGOT”. She is also a graduate of the Juilliard School’s 4-year drama programme, although she felt that she didn’t really fit into the euro-centric training. That’s a truly impressive list of accomplishments, but reading her story leaves you in awe of what she had to overcome and how hard she worked to reach the pinnacle of her craft and a place of self-love.

Viola was born into poverty in the US and grew up as one of six children in a home where alcohol abuse and domestic violence were her backdrop. She describes rat-infested living conditions in buildings that were fire hazards, no heating or hot water in bitterly cold winters, and regular hunger. As a child, her dark skin and chronic bed-wetting added to her torment. Fortunately, there have been a few guiding lights in her life: her oldest sister loved school and encouraged Viola to learn and work towards something better, a teacher and a counsellor urged her to enter an arts talent competition as a teenager, there were friends and mentors as she pursued her acting career, and (after a friend told her to get down on her knees and pray for the kind of man she wanted) her husband of the past 20 years.

In her book, Viola shares her long, gruelling journey to success and self-acceptance, including therapy in later years as she struggled to embrace the traumatised child she had been and to see herself as worthy.

A copy of FINDING ME by Viola Davis is available in the Chartered Client Library for short-term loan.

Review of The Good Life and How to Live It

Lessons from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz

Lessons from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz

The authors of this book (published in 2023) are the current programme directors of a Harvard research project that has been ongoing for an impressive 84 years. It has followed the lives of diverse participants, from their early teens through their senior years, incorporating a second generation along the way – all in a quest to deliver what the title of the book promises.

They aren’t, however, promising a shortcut to euphoria, and the authors do clarify that they are referring to eudaimonic happiness, which is “a state of deep well-being in which a person feels that their life has meaning and purpose” despite the inevitable disappointments, trauma and loss that we all experience over a lifetime.

It all comes down to relationships; other studies over the years also back up the data from the Harvard Study, i.e., quality relationships play a pivotal role in supporting our health and happiness. The Harvard Study participants who fared best in terms of happiness had strong relationships and were in better mental and physical shape into their 80s. Quality of and satisfaction with your relationships count and provide ‘armour’ when life delivers hard knocks.

The message is that all relationships – spanning spouses, family, colleagues, and friends – need effort towards embracing openness, offering and asking for support, facing into challenges, taking time to pause and understand emotions and situations better, paying attention (especially to long-term relationships that have shifted into autopilot) and showing genuine curiosity. Even interacting with a stranger can boost mood and open up opportunities. Loss of friends following retirement is quite common, and the authors encourage being purposeful about maintaining and creating social connections as life progresses.

The book provides some mini-Harvard-Study tools to gauge your ‘Social Fitness’ and plot your ‘Social Universe’, as well as a ‘W.I.S.E.R.’ model for dealing with challenging relationship events. Several life stories and comparisons among individuals who have participated in the Harvard project are included and add the human element to the research data.

A copy of The Good Life and How to Live It – Lessons from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness is available for short-term loan from our Chartered Client Library.

U3A – A Look Over the Fence

Although I still have two feet in the working world, it seemed like sensible pre-planning to find out what social options lie on the other side of the fence for my next (and not-so-distant) life chapter. And so I joined U3A.

I first heard about the rather quirky-sounding University of the Third Age from my neighbour, a fit and feisty 70-something with whom I do a 5 km walk on Sundays – which gives us a lot of time to talk! She explained that U3A is a worldwide organisation that aims to provide mature people, many retired or semi-retired, a forum for continued learning, interaction, and knowledge exchange; there are around 30 branches in South Africa. She belongs to a smaller branch and, in addition to attending some of their talks, she participates in a photographic interest group and one for birding enthusiasts.

I selected one of the bigger branches – for its proximity to work and on the assumption that bigger would mean better when it comes to monthly talks. Upon arriving to attend my first talk and seeing the busy car park, I did have fleeting second thoughts about making a solo entrance. However, in the foyer, I met a friendly lady also on her own who bought me a “welcome” coffee and chatted to me about her part-time work in education; shortly afterwards, I also bumped into a couple of Chartered clients.

Over the past few months, the topics have included conservation, personal stories, and township economics, all delivered by engaging speakers. There are also various special interest groups that one can join, which cover art, computers, writing, hiking, theatre, history, philosophy and – for the poetic at heart – even Shakespearean sonnets! That’s quite an array of options to keep the brain cells firing and meet new friends.

The annual membership fee ranges from around R80 – R200, and the various branches’ monthly talks are usually held on a Tuesday morning in a community/church hall or auditorium in the respective areas. Membership is branch-specific, but most have a nominal visitor’s charge if you want to attend a talk at a branch other than your own.

While online information about the branches and contact persons is currently sparse, an umbrella website is under construction to list all the South African U3A branches with their essential details. For now, a Google search will bring up limited results for U3A Johannesburg, Johannesburg East, Johannesburg North and Pretoria, as well as Cape Town, George, Plett, East London and Durban if you are keen to join or find out more.