The Ways to Be Happy

Sophie and I have a bedtime tradition. Every night, after her teeth are brushed, pajamas on and she’s tucked in bed, I ask her the same question I’ve been asking since she was very little.

What’s your favorite thing you did today?

The only “rule” we have when answering the question is you can’t say, “everything.” You have to name at least one specific thing or event that made you happy. Sometimes Sophie tells me it was going to the park after school, or making plans to get frozen yogurt the next day. Or it may have been going to school seeing her friends.

And then I answer the same question.

My favorite thing isn’t always related to Sophie. It could be a writing win, or making a tasty dinner. Sometimes my favorite thing is watching Sophie quietly read a book on her own. Even on the days where I feel the worst, sometimes the only thing I can think of is picking Sophie up from school and seeing her smiling face when she sees me. Even if the rest of the afternoon goes to hell, it’s that moment I remember at the end of the day when we recite “favorite things.”

Sophie depends on our little tradition as part of her nightly routine. She always says, “We need to do favorite things!” I love it because  it reminds us both that even on the worst of days, we can always find at least one thing that brought us joy.

I recently came across this blog post, in which the writer talks about what happiness means to her. Abby, the author of said post, writes:

Happiness is one of those concepts that can easily become vague and elusive. Ask anyone what they want out of life, what they want for themselves and their kids, and more often than not, you’ll hear, “I just want to be happy” or “I just want them to be happy.” But what does that actually MEAN? And how do you actually DO it?

Abby’s words – coupled with hearing Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Don’t Need Much to Be Happy – got me thinking about the things in life that bring me joy. I started keeping a list of those things, and I began to notice that when I wrote down the items or read the list, I felt calmer; happier.

I also realized that, with the exception of a few, the items I wrote down were not things in the sense that I spend money to acquire them. They are simple acts and experiences. This is so important to remember because as we all strive to feel happy, making an effort to consciously focus on the simple things that we control can change our mindset.

Here are a few things that make me happy:

  • Sleeping in and waking up naturally
  • Pumpkins
  • Walking my dogs at dusk and early evening
  • The little notes Sophie writes me
  • Lazy weekends when I curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and read all my saved blog posts from the prior week
  • The sound of rain
  • My husband’s corny puns
  • Working in my office with my dogs laying on the floor around me
  • When the hot early morning air starts turning cold, signifying that fall is on its way
  • Sidewalk chalk drawings
  • Late nights when everyone but me is asleep and I stay awake in my quiet house watching television or writing on the computer (case in point: writing this blog post)
  • The first few sips of a freshly-cracked open can of cold Diet Coke when I’m feeling particularly parched
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter’s guitar playing and hauntingly-beautiful voice
  • Watching Sophie sleep at night with Tess the cat curled up next to her
  • A cool breeze on a warm summer night
  • The excitement of a new project
  • Laughing so hard that I cry
  • Staying up late, binge-watching a new television show with Bryan
  • Butterflies
  • Watching a favorite movie I’ve seen dozens of times
  • Bright sunflowers
  • The first night of flannel sheets on my bed
  • Watching Sophie play with kids at the park after school
  • Halloween
  • Little kid Valentines that are passed out in class
  • Books! (especially when free books arrive in the mail)
  • A great piece of writing that makes me say, “Yes! I know EXACTLY what the writer means!”
  • Turning the calendar to a new month
  • Finding a new band or musician and continually listening to their songs
  • Watching The West Wing reruns
  • Christmas music and holiday lights
  • Watching Sophie and Bryan together
  • Riding in my car at night with the windows open, listening to music
  • Walking home with Sophie after school and our “walk home” chats
  • The smell of the perfect burning candle
  • Getting lost in a good book and finishing it within two days
  • Summer evening dinners, eating al fresco on backyard patio with Sophie and Bryan
  • Fourth of July fireworks and patriotic music
  • The feeling after I’ve completed a really great piece of writing
  • Watching Sophie and her cousins play together (knowing they are my sister’s kids)
  • The first day of school
  • The perfect slice of homemade fluffy lemon cake with whipped cream and lemony frosting
  • Browsing through bookstores
  • Chinese food from my favorite childhood neighborhood restaurant

I could go on … and in fact, I plan to continue my happiness list because I hope, as I get older, it will only continue to grow.

Have you ever written down the things that bring you joy? I would love to know what’s on your list! Share a few items with me!

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