Albert Einstein once said, “The most important question you can ever ask is whether or not the world is a friendly place.”

What he meant by that is, do you wake up in the morning expecting to have to fight? Do you believe that the world and those around you are trying to steal from you, cheat you, hurt you? That walls are necessary and you’re a sucker if you don’t strike first?

Or do you wake up expecting that, at its core, the world and the people who inhabit it are well-intentioned, kind, and that beauty, abundance and benevolence are the default conditions?

It was cloudy, with the temperature hanging around freezing late on the January day in 2017 when my mother concluded that there was nothing more she needed or wanted to accomplish here on earth. So, at the age of 91, she decided to look elsewhere for the beauty and joy that sustained her. And with that, she left us.

Mom truly believed that the world is a friendly place.

Belief or knowledge?

No, she KNEW, in the deepest recesses of her soul, that it is. And there’s a difference between belief and knowing. Because she knew it, her life was filled with joy and she always responded to the world in an equally friendly way.

I’m sure she had moments of anger. But I can’t remember them. I’m sure there were circumstances in which it would have felt good to get even. But I never saw her try.

To go back to Einstein, his work led to today’s understanding of quantum physics where scientists have discovered an amazing phenomenon: As we conduct experiments with the universe’s most minute particles, we discover that the results of those experiments actually depend on our expectations. Odd as it may seem, if a researcher expects one result, she gets it. If she expects something different, she gets that. Our thoughts and our intentions truly do create our reality.

Now although Mom was endlessly curious, she did not study quantum physics and she wasn’t a student of New Age philosophy. But throughout her life, she expected good things to happen. And they did. She expected to be happy. And she was. She expected to have love in her life. And she did.

Lord knows she had enough to be angry, or bitter, or cynical, or fearful about. A set of rebellious dental genes that left her with uncomfortable dentures from her early 20’s. Long bouts of painful and embarrassing skin ailments. Years of finances that were anything but secure. And let’s finish the show with blindness and Parkinson’s.

None of us can control the circumstance that surround and befall us. And those who try usually end up angry and bitter.

We have the ability to choose

But in every moment we do have the ability to choose how we respond to the circumstances that we encounter. And Mom always chose happiness. She always chose joy. And in the process of expecting joy, like those scientists, she influenced this grand experiment and experienced a life – a very long life – that was filled with happiness, peace, love and joy.

She saw joy and beauty everywhere. The red flash of a cardinal, the smell of a blossom, the closing chords of a symphony would send her into reveries of delight that never failed to uplift those around her.

Getting back to Einstein once more, the further our scientists climb up the mountain of knowledge, the more they discover that the philosophers and gurus have been sitting there, waiting for them. And they tell us that the secret to happiness is not health, it’s not wealth, it’s not power, it’s not knowledge.

The secret to happiness

No, the secret to happiness is – happiness. Simply choosing, regardless of circumstances, to be happy.

And Mom was the Master of Happiness. In her prime she would revel about the sunshine, a blossom, a beautiful song. She would delight in a conversation. With anyone. About anything. She would be gleeful about a long trip. Or a short trip. About a meal, or a snack. About the day, or the night.

Even as her faculties began to cruelly abandon her, she chose wonder and joy. When disease and failing eyesight intruded on her world, she dismissed them with characteristic cheer. Her glass was always half full. Endlessly curious and optimistic, she even plotted to outsmart the disease that eventually took her. She asked that her brain be donated so researchers can get closer to understanding and curing the enigma that is Parkinson’s. She is no doubt looking over their shoulders and asking a thousand questions.

Near the end, she couldn’t remember what she’d had for breakfast, but every time you would share some news with her she’d always say, ‘I’m so pleased!’ And she meant it.

With her life, Mom answered Einstein’s question. I doubt she’d even think it was a question worth asking. With her life she showed us that the world IS a beautiful, a wondrous, and indeed a very friendly place.