Gretchen Rubin

“I’m Thankful for What I Have and Hopefully a Little Less Selfish than 18-Year-Old Me.”

“I’m Thankful for What I Have and Hopefully a Little Less Selfish than 18-Year-Old Me.”

Interview: Áine Fay.

Lately, I've learned a lot about the impressive work of Concern Worldwide U.S., an international humanitarian organization that works to transform the lives of the poorest people in the poorest countries.

For almost fifty years, Concern has been visiting the places that few other people choose to go—often, it’s a grueling task simply to reach the destination, because there just isn’t a road that goes there. And Concern doesn’t just hand out supplies from the back of a truck. The people of Concern really dig in, to hear what a community needs, where the true opportunities for growth and change might be.

Aine Fay is the President of Concern Worldwide U.S., serving as the day-to-day leader overseeing the operations of a growing team of more than 50 people engaged in programs, development, communications, advocacy, development education, finance, and administration.  She's also the organization’s lead strategist.

Trained as a nurse, Áine joined Concern in January 1983, and what started as a 2-year volunteer contract in Bangladesh has turned into a 30-year long commitment. Áine has lived and worked in some of the world’s most difficult environments, including Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Haiti and Afghanistan.

I was very interested to hear what she had to say about how to build a happier, healthier, more productive life.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Áine: Cycling to and from the office – the weather rarely scares me off.  It starts my day well and is a clear break between work and home in the evening and a fantastic de-stressor.  It’s a rare day on my bike in New York that I don’t see something to make me smile or even laugh out loud.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old? 

My mother’s adage ‘moderation in all things’.  If only I had listened all my habits would have been healthier from the get-go.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness? 

I am generally a happy individual – I love my work with Concern and feel blessed that I wandered into it 34 years ago to give 2 years to a good cause.  Seeing how people who live in dire poverty make the most of their lot, who have the same ambitions for their families and strive hard daily to improve their lives – my work has  made me who I am. I’m thankful for what I have and hopefully a little less selfish than the 18 year old me.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Travel.  I travel a huge amount for my job (which I love) but it does absolutely interfere in both the habit of regular exercise and healthy eating.  It’s difficult when you arrive in the remote areas that Concern works in to be fussy about what you eat, and it’s certainly not OK to be critical when the people you are seeing every day may not be able to afford 3 meals a day, so I just dig in, enjoy and live to fight the flab another day!  Similarly for exercise, security issues usually mean that I cannot exercise outdoors when I travel to these remote areas and I have never developed the discipline of indoor exercise – maybe that’s the healthy habit I need to develop.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

Yes.  My sixtieth year – a milestone birthday and the year I moved to New York.  I challenged myself to train for a ½ marathon to raise funds for a Concern program and this in turn led me to train and complete the New York Marathon two years later.  I don’t do such long distances now but keep up jogging on as a regular basis as life allows.

What else would you particularly like to bring to readers’ attention?

Think of something to be thankful for every day – My work with the poorest people on our planet serves as a reminder to me how lucky I am and despite the struggles we think I have, there are many, many people around us who are so much worse off and without the safety nets that we have.

To learn more about the work of Concern Worldwide U.S., or to donate to their efforts, go here.

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