January 19 marks the birthday of someone very special: Dolly Parton! The beloved singer turns 76 today, and we’re celebrating the gifts and talents she shares with the world. Her music, humanitarianism, and sassy sense of humor have been an inspiration for decades — but most especially during the pandemic and beyond, when we all needed a little pick-me-up. Dolly helped ensure, as one of her songs says, that life would be good again.
In 2020, Dolly was already hard at work on a fragrance, Scent from Above (Buy from Macy’s $59), and planning to launch her own line of cosmetics and wigs when COVID-19 hit. But she hit pause on her projects and donated a million dollars to the research that led to the Moderna vaccine.
“It made me feel good to help!” Dolly told Woman’s World. “When the pandemic started, I thought, ‘This is going to get serious. I need to pray about how I can help.‘” So when Dolly felt led to donate money to Covid research, she jumped at the chance.
Where does that philanthropic streak come from? Dolly’s upbringing, for one. Born one of 12 children in the mountains of East Tennessee, Dolly grew up in a home that was poor, but rich in love. Dolly’s beloved father never learned to read, and that fact inspired her to found the Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that provides free books for children.
To spread a little more joy, Dolly partnered with Jeni’s Ice Cream to create a new flavor, Dolly’s Strawberry Pretzel Pie (preorder from Jeni’s, $12), the proceeds of which went to the Imagination Library. “It was the greatest thing,” the 76-year-old laughed. “I’ve been so blessed that it brings me so much happiness to give back, however I can.” In celebration of Dolly’s birthday, learn her secrets to finding more balance, courage, and joy every day.
Let faith be a guide.
“I have a great relationship with God,” Dolly said. “I talk to Him like He’s a friend. He knows everything about me, so I don’t have to hide nothing. People always say, ‘You always seem so happy,’ but everybody has their heartaches-deaths, health issues or just when things aren’t working. I’ve been through hard times and I know what depression feels like. I think God lets us feel those things so we can relate to others and know better how to serve. And I always come out of those times by praying!”
Find peace outside.
“I love to get out and explore nature — that’s one of my favorite things to do!” Dolly shared. “I live out on a farm and I have a golf cart I like to drive around to just get out and look at the flowers. I’ll look at the blooms, find all the new bird nests and the new things growing and popping up all around. Just being outside is so healing and good for the soul — it brings me much peace.”
“In life, it’s important to know your weaknesses,” Dolly advised. “Write them down on a piece of paper — all your good points and your bad points — and then see which balance out the most. For me, life is like a battery: You’ve got to have the negative and the positive to make it work! One doesn’t work without the other, so you’ve got to find your balance. Find out who you really are and make yourself happy before you try to make anybody else happy. Focus on you. Let yourself be your top priority.”
Follow one rule.
“There’s a saying about treating everyone like you want to be treated, and that’s important in a relationship too,” said Dolly, who celebrated her 56th anniversary with her husband, Carl Dean, last May. “Give your partner respect, space and devotion. And never argue and say hateful things. We’ve never done that, and we’ve just grown stronger.”
Reset with a read.
“I love to read — it’s my favorite hobby,” Dolly shared. “Whenever I need to relax, reading is the best thing. I’ll read myself to sleep at night. I don’t like to read books twice, but the older I get the more I’m able to. As they say, when you get older you can hide your own Easter eggs! I love Lee Smith. She’s always been my favorite Southern writer, and now I’m beginning to kind of go back and read some of her books again — it’s just the best way to unwind.”
Joy is an inside job.
“You’ve got to kick your own butt!” Dolly said of getting motivated to achieve your dreams. “Lots of people blame their lack of success on somebody else, but you can’t dream at someone else’s expense, nor can you blame other people for your lack of happiness. You’ve got to work at that like a job. True happiness is a full-time job, and you need to love that work!”
What wise words to live by! Happy birthday, Dolly!
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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.