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Home » All, Gratitude, Health, Pathway 3 "Meaning", Positive Feelings, _1 Positive Experiences

Your Life Metaphor Matters. Listen to 107 year-old Clara Font.

By on July 2, 2007 – 12:01 am  10 Comments

David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.



On the eve of her 107th birthday, I interviewed Clara Font at the adult day care center she visits every day.  She was engaging, lucid, and funny.  I sat down to talk with her after she had just finished her aerobic exercises with her physical therapist.  She had been swinging her legs, and kicking an inflated ball.  I was impressed. 

Sitting face to face with Clara I asked, “Tomorrow you turn 107, what do you think?”  Clara did not hesitate with her answer.  She looked right at me, and said with a smile, “Life is a gift.” 

In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Positive Psychology researcher Jonathan Haidt wrote, “Human thinking depends on metaphor.  We understand new or complex things in relation to the things we already know…once you pick a metaphor it will guide your thinking.” 

Consider the power of Clara’s “life is a gift” metaphor.  When we see life as a gift, we see that it is to be appreciated, unwrapped, shared, opened, cared for, and celebrated.  A gift brings delight, opportunity, privilege, and a responsibility to use it thoughtfully. 

Our metaphors help us make sense of the world.  Metaphors allow us to understand something as complex as “life” by thinking of it in terms of something we already know like “a gift.”  Clara’s “life is a gift” metaphor is all the more impressive to me, considering that her first forty years were marked with tragedy. 

During the Russian pogroms, two of Clara’s brothers were ripped from their home and were never seen again.  Clara spoke of her family and how they had to separate to survive.  As a newlywed, she was forced to leave Russia with her husband.  Their perilous journey to Romania began on foot and included swimming across a river.  From Romania they traveled to Argentina where their two children were born.  In 1939 Clara and her family relocated to the United States to be with her mother and younger sister who had made it safely to New York years earlier.  Then one year after arriving in America, her husband died.  And through it all, Clara believed that life was a gift.

metaphors we live byProfessors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson wrote in their book Metaphors We Live By, “In all aspects of life…we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on the basis of the metaphors.  We draw inferences, set goals, make commitments, and execute plans, all on the basis of how we in part structure our experience, consciously and unconsciously, by means of metaphor.”

Years ago you were “cool” if your metaphor for life was “Life’s a b@#!% and then you die.”  People wore tee-shirts, hats, and put bumper stickers on their cars emblazoned with these words.  I always wondered how this metaphor or any of its many variations helped anyone live a better life.  It’s hard to imagine a centenarian like Clara blowing out her candles, and then shouting, “Life sucks!”

Before the end of my interview with Clara I asked, “Clara, what’s it like to be almost 107 years old?”  She smiled broadly, and charmingly told me, “Everyone asks me that question.”  She then leaned forward in her chair and said, “Every day is another opportunity.”

Think about your metaphors.  Do they lead you to happiness?  Do they inspire you to be a better friend, spouse, parent, or leader?  Do they open up career possibilities for you?  If your metaphors are not helping you achieve your best possible life, change them.

And if you’re not sure where to start, consider the metaphors, and wisdom of someone who recently turned 107 years old. Listen to Clara:  “Life is a gift,” and “every day is an opportunity.” 

Clara, your life is our gift.  Happy Birthday!

 

 


 

Reference

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press.

10 Comments »

  • Chris says:

    David, what a wonderful story about Clara. She has certainly taken her life metaphor and used it well. When you write about imagining someone blowing out candles and shouting “Life Sucks!” I laughed out loud at how ridiculous it sounded. That however, is how many people think about life. They may not yell or think it when they blow out birthday candles, but many have that metaphor in the back of their minds as they walk through everyday life. I like Clara’s metaphor much better! Thanks again for a great post.

  • Doug Turner says:

    David: Clara reminded me of my grandmother, Elmeda Turner, who was born in 1885 and died at the age of 102. I loved to visit her because she had such a zest for life – like Clara. She insisted on mowing her own lawn (with a non-powered push mower) well into her 90’s. When her legs started to give her some problems she would slowly stand up, look at her legs, and talk to them saying, “I’m going into the kitchen, if you want to go too, then get moving!” – and off they went. I always got a kick out of that. We all have so much to learn from people like Clara and my grandma. Thanks for the reminder. Doug

  • Hi Doug,

    Thanks Doug for sharing your memories of Grandma Turner; what a great woman! I love the idea of her mowing her lawn into her nineties, and her motivational talks with her legs. Stories like Grandma Turner’s are very inspiring to me. I hope to be like your grandmother for my children and grandchildren.

    Best to you Doug,

    David

  • Thanks Chris for the post. It is fascinating to listen to our own metaphors, and the metaphors of others. There’s no doubt that Clara’s metaphor is still helping her get up every day. You should see her work with her physical trainer; her workout takes great effort. It is clear that she values life and is still working to make the most of it.

    Best to you,

    David

  • Preston Kevin Lewis says:

    What a great message Dave. It’s so critical that we keep putting good, positive mental food in our system. Thanks for being a conduit for this for us all. I am sharing this with my staff this week.

    Best,
    Preston

    Preston Kevin Lewis
    Managing Director
    Warner Bros. Consumer Products – Australia & New Zealand

  • Alberto Casellas says:

    David
    Thanks for your article on Clara. It triggers me to think about how these “metaphors” can affect one’s thinking, can affect our ability to act and take action every day. Your writing on Clara’s story will remind us what every day is all about!

    Regards,

    Alberto Casellas

  • Thanks Preston and Alberto for your comments!

    In a business setting, it’s interesting to think of how a team metaphor frames our thinking and action. It impacts how we care for our customers, partner with our suppliers, and work with each other.

    Thank again for your posts.

    Best to you both,

    David

  • Lavika (jakarta, Indonesia) says:

    Hi, good article…
    I am researching metaphor and always thinking that metaphor is THE subconscious language. I always curious on how can we change our subconsciuos by changing our metaphor effectively.I wonder if you have any resources on this.

    Thanks

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Lavika!

    Great question. You are right on; our metaphors reflect our beliefs. The key to adopting a powerful metaphor is to make sure it reflects your empowering beliefs.

    I write quite a bit about beliefs. Email me at david@themomentumprojet.com. I would be happy to point you to some more articles you might enjoy.

    Best to you!
    David

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