The Girlfriend Site Logo
Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to The Girlfriend community. Log in or create a free online account today to get the best user experience, participate in giveaways, save your favorite articles, follow our authors and more.
Don't have an account? Click Here To Register

Revealed! The Winners Of Our Girlfriend Happiness Contest!

Find out how women across the country are finding true contentment.

Comment Icon
photos of happiness contest winners in 2024
AARP (Illustrations: Steph Ramplin, Photos courtesy of winners)
Comment Icon

We asked our readers how they've found happiness — and you told us! After going through a mountain of entries, here are the winners below. We hope that their stories will help YOU find more happiness in your life.

Sheryl Bratcher, 45, First-Place Winner

photo of Sheryl Bratcher with parents
Courtesy of Sheryl Bratcher

It’s not often you hear that someone has found happiness through death, but I have. My whole life, since I was 4 years old, I feared losing my parents. Then it happened. I lost my father on Christmas Eve 2015 to kidney failure and my mom in June 2020 to a stroke. You’re probably thinking, “What’s happy about that?" How could I possibly look back at those memories fondly? It’s because I found my sense of purpose in caring for them in their final days. Don’t get me wrong, it was the worst time of my life, full of crying myself to sleep if I could even get to sleep.

But I had the beautiful opportunity to care for them so they were able to pass peacefully in their own beds. My dad shared stories of his childhood as I fed him pizza. The last words he spoke to me before he drifted off were "I love you." He passed with dignity at home, just as he wished, which brought me much peace. As for my mom, when the medical transport brought her home from the hospital so she could live her remaining days in the comfort of her own house, she looked at me, and I could see she knew she was safe and would soon be at peace. She couldn’t communicate, but she could still hold my hand. I told her of all the things she did for me that I appreciated and how much I loved her.

She left this world knowing how much she meant to me. It’s in these saddest moments of my life that I also experienced unconditional love and peace. I wouldn’t trade these moments I had with them for anything. And I find continued happiness knowing they are both together watching over me.

Michelle Reese-Josefsberg, 52, Second-Place Winner

photo of Michelle Reese-Josefsberg
Courtesy of Michelle Reese-Josefsberg

Cancer brought me a happiness I did not fully know that I was missing out on. It saved my life — not literally, obviously, but in all the ways that matter.

When you are contemplating a future much shorter than you thought it ever might be, you get serious about what that future is going to look like. And you get really intentional about who the people are in your life, however long it might be. I had to stop worrying about others’ opinions, let go of my fears, ignore the noise and focus on what mattered — which, at the end of the day, are the relationships in your life — the people you choose to surround yourself with.

I was finally able to accept separation from a marriage that was long overdue to let go of. I also let go of my expectations of family and redefined what that word even meant. I invested more time in my friendships — shrinking my social circle but investing my time and energy in those friends who were not only "ride or die” through the toughest time in my life, but who also brought joy to my day.

I am now cancer-free, and I am incredibly grateful. But I am grateful for the cancer, too. I "know” cancer and that is a knowledge I never wanted. But had I not come to know cancer, I would never know the happiness I have found now.

Mary Howard-Hamilton, 70, Third-Place Winner

photos of Mary Howard-Hamilton
Courtesy of Mary Howard-Hamilton

"When I retire I am going to …” Hey, wait, pump your brakes! Why wait until you retire to start living life?! If you have the time, do it NOW. My favorite quote as a teenager was “The richness of life is adventure." I have always "stepped out on faith” and rarely waited for the right time to enjoy life.

I decided to really enjoy living by celebrating my 70th birthday all year. No doom and gloom out of this sister! I have been preparing to become a "septuagenarian” for several years. The planning began when I saw the 2023 NCAA Women’s Final Four and said "I am going in 2024." Who knew it would be so EPIC!? What is even more special, I attended The University of Iowa and North Carolina State University, so this was a win-win for me. So, I got four tickets last year and got my best friends on board for the "2024 Septuagenarian Tour."

I invited my family and friends to Indiana for the birthday celebration and it started with a personal chef serving dinner. My mom (94), brother (56) and two nieces (31 and 29) were also celebrating birthdays in the same month, so why not party!? Next, I will be leading a study tour to South Africa for the fourth time and overall, this will be my tenth trip there. Then, this summer, I am going to New York to see "The Wiz” and "Hell’s Kitchen” on Broadway with my best friends (as you can see, they never say no to a great adventure).

When I watched the Super Bowl and saw Usher, I checked the tour schedule and saw that he was performing on my sister’s birthday in Denver. This is going to be a "sisters' celebration” closing out the “2024 Septuagenarian Tour”… well, maybe.

Honorable Mentions:

Lori LeBeau

I discovered my happiness by accident about 13 years ago and I feel VERY lucky to be a part of the organization that has put this happiness in my life. My happiness and joy come from volunteering with Warriors Renewal Coalition — they provide retreats for post-9/11 veterans, service members and their caregivers. I get to participate in the retreats for these truly deserving people. I'm able to spend time with them and see how much coming to a retreat helps them relax, destress and bond with others who totally understand the wide and varied challenges they're dealing with. They're able to start finding some much-needed peace and start their healing process. This is what brings me genuine happiness.

Knowing that I'm there to help be part of the support system that this organization provides for our retreat guests gives me a huge sense of purpose and makes me feel like my contribution is worthwhile and matters and that makes my soul happy. I've met some truly incredible people from being part of this organization and now I'm lucky enough to call them friends and having them in my life brings even more happiness to my life.

Having the opportunity to be there for others when they truly need support is absolutely the most rewarding kind of happiness for me, as I get to help people and I know I'm giving back to others in the most positive and rewarding way possible and that equals true happiness for me!!

Kathy Brammer

Happiness noun — the state of being happy:

Happy adjective — feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.

When I retired at 58, I thought that I'd be so happy. No more stress. No more early morning rushes. No more quick, feed the dogs and get the coffee. Go, go, go! Instead, I realized I was bored. Not many of my friends were retired. Most everyone else was still working. I found myself somewhat depressed and in a funk. When I used to get mail from AARP in the past, I’d throw it away and say "I’m not old." My husband would always tease me when it came in the mail (he’s two years younger). And one day I finally joined. (No this isn’t a plug for AARP so I’ll win!). I didn’t realize what was offered. I started with one Zoom exercise class. One turned into two. Then I signed up for other things. History-related, meditation, cooking. I found my love of cooking and baking from scratch. I don’t like working out at a gym, but I do like it via Zoom. I make lists of things I do for the day — half of it is through AARP (again, still not a plug). How close-minded I’ve been for the past several years to ignore/not realize these benefits. I’m so happy now! My husband sees a huge difference and says he loves the new me. I love the new me too! I guess you can teach an "old” dog new tricks! (Still not old).

Jennifer York

Happiness for me has always meant spending time with family. After spending the past 55 years exploring the great outdoors with family, I worried about how to find happiness on my own. I have always loved hiking, biking, kayaking and camping with others. From growing up camping in Colorado with family and friends to enjoying the great outdoors with my own children, there wasn't anything that we weren't up for. My last great adventure was with my daughters (ages 27 and 24) last July. We drove from Maine to camp, hiked (111 miles) and explored Estes Park, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Grand Junction, Arches and the Canyonlands.

My girls are now living in other states planning their own adventures together and with friends, which makes me so proud and happy as their mom but has left me wondering how to find that same happiness on my own. After months of contemplation, I discovered that nothing needs to change and that I can do all that on my own. I can make my own happiness! I now work out every day for myself — for my own health and happiness. I also planned a trip to camp at and hike Mt. Katahdin this upcoming summer and signed up to run in the Beach 2 Beacon road race. Although my favorite thing is to play and explore with others, I have discovered that one can play and explore on their own and be just as happy. I now understand the saying that happiness begins with yourself!

Here's to experiencing new adventures!

Krysti Strunk

I have found a lot of happiness in my girl gang. I am a teacher and have been for almost 20 years. My girl gang consists of my teacher besties who have become family over the years. They are a lovely, supportive group of encouraging women. We very much enjoy food and drink and make time to travel and seek out places to share good meals together. We trade recipes and favorite book titles and names of our toxin injectors. We shared the same one for a few years and called him our "boyfriend." This could have caused some confusion for a few of our children. We like to throw themed parties for one another's birthdays. (a recent Mrs. Maisel-themed party was a personal favorite). We have cried together over the losses of loved ones and struggling children. These women have taught me compassion and how to look out for others. They have shown me how to care for the community around me and what unconditional love looks like. These amazing women are of all races, religions and ages and I am blessed to call them mine. I do not think that I would be able to continue in my teaching career were they not there to offer a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear. I am so thankful for my girlfriends and the happiness that they bring into my daily life.

Leanne Kirk

I found happiness through the dead. In December 2020, my father passed away suddenly from a stroke. Shortly afterward, I saw a Facebook post asking about Dr. Ruth Oda for whom a local playground was named. The person who created the post said that he could not find any information about the doctor. Oda was my childhood pediatrician and was a beloved pediatrician in Hilo, Hawaii. I realized that there were no articles about her since she retired in 1998 (and died in 2001) before the Internet became popular. So, I decided to create a website about her even though I had never created a website before.

I researched newspaper articles about Oda on and put together a website to let people know who she was.

I later put together another website honoring my deceased swim instructor, Charles "Sparky” Kawamoto, for whom a large swim stadium in Hilo is named.

I happened to come across my great-uncle’s photo album from World War II where he had served with the 100th Battalion/442nd Infantry Regiment. His album told a story of his experiences during the war. My great-uncle died at age 26, two years after returning home from the war. He had no wife or children. I decided to donate a digital copy of his album to the National WWII Museum and the Go for Broke National Education Center. After a lengthy process, both organizations accepted my great-uncle’s album.

I realized that I love honoring the dead. I have continued to do so by creating memorials on and adding pictures to them, learning to edit and create articles on Wikipedia, doing genealogical research, and transcribing my friend’s deceased father’s diary from WWII. Honoring the dead has brought me a sense of purpose, peace and happiness.

Justine Clark

About five years ago I retired from my 30-year career. I searched for a year or so on what to do now. I liked the idea of volunteering somewhere but where? I liked to be around other women my age, but it seemed they were all still working. And after the lockdown on society as a whole, I needed to get out of the house. I searched on a neighborhood app for a group for women over 50 that I could join that went to lunch or dinner occasionally. I needed and wanted to develop some new friendships. To my dismay there wasn't a group like that so I decided I would create that group! I did that on December 31, 2020. About four months in, some lady posted in the group and asked the question, "Does this group go out and do anything?" It did not occur to me that actually meeting in person was what was needed. We were just coming out of the societal lockdown and everyone was still cautious. I responded to that post by saying, "Yes, we will start to meet in person this month!" So this began my happiness/friendship/love project. That first event was magical! Since no one knew each other I would need a signal to let them know it was me. So I brought an artificial pink rose and planted it between the slats on the wooden picnic table. Seven ladies showed up!! I have coordinated three to four events every month since. There are now over 1,100 ladies in the group. This is my purpose for my life now! I am trying to reach all women over 50 that need me because I need them! No one should feel lonely and isolated.

If any of you are seeking new friends and connections, please consider joining The Ethel Circle, a closed Facebook group for older women. Lots of in-person gatherings are happening across the country!