WHAT is the secret to happiness?

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A journey of gratitude and healing

by Alex Abaz

This beautiful book will inspire you to get past abuse, deal with fears and loss, and figure out how to appreciate all that life has to offer.

What is the secret to happines?  Here is a sample of my book.

"Ice cream changed my fate," said the seductive Katherine
in the film "Under the Tuscan Sun"

I love the feeling of enchantment. It’s that look that we see on children’s faces as they discover each new day. I get it every time I look up at the sky through the tall trees of a wooded forest, or when I drive around a winding path and spy a country home nestled in a green valley, or when I stare at the horizon caressing the sparkling water of a lake or an ocean. Life is all about simple pleasures. In simplicity there is wonder.

The 2003 film “Under the Tuscan Sun” is a heart-warming drama about second chances in life. It’s serendipity all the way! Frances (played by Diane Lane) travels to Italy, on a 10-day gay bus-tour ticket (a gift from her friends), after her marriage in San Francisco abruptly ends. On impulse – a moment of folly – she buys a villa in Tuscany. The villa is in total disrepair and becomes an unplanned project. With much frustration Frances sets out to repair it and in the process revitalizes her life. One of her teachers is the seductive and overly-dramatic Katherine (played by Lindsay Duncan) who tells her (and us) the secret to happiness: how to discover what the French say is “joie de vivre” and what Italians do very well – “vivere bene”.

In another scene, Katherine says to Frances, “How are you ever going to be happy if you keep wallowing? Listen, when I was a little girl I used to spend hours looking for ladybugs. Finally, I’d just give up and fall asleep in the grass. When I woke up, they were crawling all over me. So go work on your house and forget about it.” But I digress... I couldn’t resist. Let’s get back to the topic of ice cream.

Ice cream is all about pleasure. It makes everything better at any age. (After all, real life inspires art and art imitates life.) If you have nothing else to do and want to relieve the boredom, you can go out to get an ice cream. If you’re exhausted after hours of hard work, you can stop for an ice cream and lick it slowly while you recover. If you’re out and about, and want to indulge in an inexpensive treat, you can buy an ice cream.

I can still remember the divine treat I had one evening as a small child “nel mio paese” in southern Italy. It cost a whole five Lira (about five cents) and it was to die for. It was the first “penguino” that I recall having – a chocolate-coated-creamy-gelato-on-a-stick. I walked about licking it slowly for as long as it lasted. If I close my eyes today I can still taste how delicious it was. It conjures up the joy I felt on a magical night of fireworks, music, and song. When I reached my teens, growing up in Toronto, I’d often share an ice cream with one of my five sisters. We didn’t always have enough money for two. Sometimes we would walk to our destination in order to save the streetcar fare and buy the ice cream. It gave us so much pleasure. If we were out with our mother, she’d buy one for each of us but never one for herself. We would then grudgingly insist that she taste some of ours.

My child was treated to ice cream on most excursions. It was the least we could do to make up for all the hardship. Long and arduous trips to our “overnight place” were made bearable whenever we stopped half way at a place called Mayfield. It was really an undiscovered oasis with lots of trees and a river running through it. There was spring water to quench our thirst, beautiful white swans swimming in a large pond, and a water wheel for special effect. The place could not offer any more delight to the imagination. After a ride with his dad on a circus swing built for two, and a bathroom stop, my husband would walk him over to the trailer which was parked there all summer long. When they reached the ice cream window I could hear the question from afar, “What flavour?” and the answer was almost always the same. There is no doubt in my mind that ice cream is a heavenly concoction intended to keep us amused here in this earthly playground.

 VIVERE: Live, Laugh & Just Be!
VIVERE: Live, Laugh & Just Be!

Katherine wraps up the whole storyline very simply in one scene. It’s a chance evening encounter between Frances and Katherine in the piazza where everyone converges to party. The piazza is a meeting place. Frances is not accustomed to the frequent flirtatious passes made so casually by Italian men and Katherine has to translate, “He’s not asking when you last had sex. He’s asking whether or not you’re married.” Frances politely answers the man, “Thank you. No, I’m not.” And then there’s another pass, “Everything all right darling?” Frances replies, “Oh terrific. I’m just eating.” But Katherine corrects her, “He is.” Frances blushes, “Oh, my God. I feel like such an idiot.” Katherine reassures her, “Don’t. Flirting is a ritual in Italy. Just enjoy it.” Then she offers Frances her gelato, “Taste this. It’s gorgeous.” Frances takes a lick and wonders, “Mmm! How do you do it?” Katherine asks her, “Do what,” and then proceeds to tell us the secret that everyone wants to know, “well hats make me happy. And ice cream. Ice cream changed my fate. It was because of ice cream that my beloved Fefe discovered me.” Frances asks, “Fefe?” Katherine elaborates, “Il Maestro.” But Frances still doesn’t know, “Who?” And Katherine tells her, “Federico, darling.” Frances guesses, “Fellini.” But Katherine keeps talking, “He discovered me in the Piazza Novena with my parents eating an ice cream. I was gobbling it down, letting it run all over my chin because I was hungry. ‘Do you like ice cream? He asked me.’ I didn’t know who he was. ‘You are my imagination come to life,’ he told me. He wasn’t just a director. He gave great advice.”  Frances nudges her on, “I’m listening.” Katherine elaborates, “Fefe said you have to live spherically in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm and things will come your way.”

VIVERE: Live, Laugh & Just Be!

Do you enjoy your own company? Would you take yourself out for an ice cream or a cappuccino or a meal?

Do you indulge routinely in simple pleasures, like window shopping? Do you like hats? Do you look for ladybugs?