When I was in eight grade, we had an assembly and, while I can’t remember what on earth it was about, I do know that the man up on stage opened up by asking us our definition of success: What does it mean to be successful? I quickly rose my hand and offered my answer: “Being happy.” And I got laughed at.

Now, I was a very popular middle schooler and knew that my peers and classmates weren’t laughing at me so much as at the radical notion of success being defined, not by money or fame or power, but by something as ordinary and seemingly achievable as happiness.

But, after the death this weekend of another icon of my middle school years, I stand by my pronouncement. I was never a huge Whitney Houston fan, she didn’t sing my favorite ever song and I certainly hadn’t given her much thought over the past ten (or twenty) years. But, as I found myself singing “Greatest Love of All” and still knowing every single word by heart, I must acknowledge that she is undoubtedly part of the soundtrack of my life. From eight grade graduation to school dances to “One Moment In Time” (and imagined greatness on the field hockey field), her songs and her voice provide a backdrop to my adolescence.

And, as she joins others from those mid-80s glory days (The Kind of Pop, of course, and movie stars like River Phoenix, who we all loved), I know that the brave fourteen year old girl who equated happiness with success was right. I would take my life over their’s any day.

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