(hey, type here for great stuff)

access to tools for the beginning of infinity

My happiness list: chat walks, snuggles, tanbark and obits

A friend told me last week that she knows exactly what will make her happy and does those things when she feels unhappy to try to change her mood. Obviously, these are short-term happiness fixes, but she thinks everyone should have a list. And not just in your head, but written down. Some of my friend Veerle’s include, flowers, a shower, people-watching in a city and a walk in a forest.

It got me thinking, some people make bucket lists (what they want to do before they “kick the bucket” lists) so why not make happiness lists just to be ready for when you’re feeling slightly, or completely, miserable. Veerle swears that by going to her list she can make herself feel better every time.

She challenged me to start my own list, so I am obliging here. But I’d also like to hear about other people’s lists. Research shows happiness tends to be less related to what we have and more related to how we spend our time (i.e. with people we care about, doing things we enjoy), but maybe some of you wouldn’t agree. Is there some object that makes you happy?

I thought it would be easier to write down what it is that makes me happy, but this took a few days of thinking and returning to my list to add or alter. Since I’m new to this, I’m sure this won’t be the end to the alterations.

What makes me happy (the short-term stuff)

  1. The sound of airplanes overhead on a warm day. Perhaps this is a vestige of a suburban childhood below the flight path of San Francisco airport, but it triggers a sensation of excitement and awe: excitement that life can be a voyage and awe that it can be so easy.
  2. Slipping into the kitchen for a square of chocolate. It reminds me that “I can indulge” and usually that slides into “life is good” and “I am lucky”. Even if it doesn’t work, it’s a small price for a big payoff.
  3. When something fits into my “unifying theory” of the world. My unifying theory can change, but that doesn’t matter, it’s the “it all fits together” feeling that I like.
  4. Making a cup of tea. It slows me down and makes me appreciate that I can take the time to make and drink a cup of tea.
  5. Taking a “chat walk”. My former Manhattan roommate Penny and I invented the term. You could also call it an urban hike, but for those of us city folk, it’s my favorite way to catch up with friends, take in the sites of the city and jointly ponder what we’re all doing here (I try to take conversation in that direction at least a half hour into the walk).
  6. A discussion analyzing the whys and hows of life with someone who likes to think about this stuff. This includes the topic of happiness. Therefore, analyzing what makes me happy can make me happy. (I’m not alone. See: Talk deeply, Be happy).
  7. Making something: for me, this is often editing a video. It can be the worst of times (the frustration when you can’t get started or the pieces don’t fit together) and the best of times (when seemingly disparate concepts suddenly lock into place and I can feel that there’s a story there; and when I edit a montage to music that feels right).
  8. Spying on neighbors. I haven’t verbalized this as an activity since I was 10 when I wanted to be Harriet the Spy, but living in New York my apartment was straight out of Rear Window and I couldn’t help but notice the lives of others (in one window I saw a family change with pregnancy, the newborn, a toddler and finally the move to, I’m guessing, a bigger place). Witnessing human activity from afar, and with the sound turned off, can deliver a similar impact as a Capra movie.
  9. The smell of tanbark. It reminds me of Sun Valley, Idaho where I spent my summers growing up.
  10. A good backrub, preferably one from my husband so I don’t have to be obsessing about cost or time limit.
  11. Snuggles (ask my 3-year-old).
  12. Writing something that has rhythm to it.
  13. Anticipating a good movie.
  14. Losing myself in a good book (this happens far too rarely; I barely even start books these days).
  15. Reading the obituaries. This is not a case of schadenfreude, but of remembering that we all will be there one day. Sometimes it depresses me, but oftentimes it allows me to let go.
  16. Anticipating the several course meal that is Sunday lunch at my in-laws.
  17. Thinking about how short people’s lives used to be (in the Middle Ages life expectancy was closer to 35 year old), and for many, it still can be. It can make me feel sad, depressed and confronted with the futility of it all, but also feel relieved of life’s pressures and appreciative of my bonus time.
  18. Late night talks with my sisters during family holidays when there are no kids around, no sports to be played, no other visible signs of life in the house and no curfew for our conversation.
  19. Making this list.

Follow the last comments on Pursuit of Happiness from Twitter below