Monthly Archives: August 2010

The happiness project

Sometimes the blues hit.

For me, when the blues hit, they hit hard. I find myself dragging, having a hard time at work, unable to get as much writing done, slower to respond to my friends ... They are the days of curling up on couches, hiding underneath blankets, tapping my fingers on counter-tops, playing with the plants in my garden for hours, or walking through forests without any other people around.

I dare say I've had a few of those days this summer, as my life winds and twists in ways completely unexpected to me.  Two weeks ago in particular, I felt like I walked smack into a solid wall. I was trying to accomplish too much and attack too many projects. I got in completely over my head. Overwhelmed, scared, afraid even. It's difficult to admit -- to myself even -- when I've taken on too much and committed myself to too many projects.

In retrospect (of course), the blues aren't so troublesome as they are informative: they teach me how to press on, where my edges and endings are, what stresses me out, and how to cope with the bad stuff. A week's stay in a hospital? Not a problem. A nasty bout of dysentery? Check. But a stressful week at work? Strangely, it can sometimes get the best of me.

On the blue-est of days, when my melancholy gets the best of me, I have to use my obsessive list-making to my advantage (me? obsessive? not at all).  I sit down and make a list of the things that make me happy.  "The happiness project," as I like to call it, is an active method for lifting my soul up a bit on the melancholy days. Here's how it goes:

The first, simplest (and ONLY) step (I am always surprised by how well it works!) is to write down 100 things that make you happy. Don't stop at 25, don't write down things you think *should* make you happy or things that you feel guilty about not liking. And by all means, don't write down things that make other people happy.  Write down a list of your favorite things to do, even if they are whimsical, fleeting, rare moments, or if you think they aren't important -- still, take note. Take note of those things that cause you to smile and laugh. The best part is getting lost in the thoughts of things that make you happy: sometimes, just wandering through the ideas of fun times is enough to lift your spirit, if you give your mind those few minutes to daydream.

I can't make your happiness list for you. But here are some of my favorites - the top 60, if you will. Perhaps you'll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed making the list.

The Happiness Project

1.  Waking up earlier than the wind, and watching flat, still water across the San Francisco Bay. Feeling like I woke up before the ocean; having birds and even the trees be still.
2. Being in the ocean, the sensory calm of cold, brisk, water simultaneously activating and dulling all of my nerve endings. Swimming in the bay with the sunrise, being the only moving thing between the ocean depths and the expansive sky. Feeling huge against the tiny city, and tiny against the enormity of the ocean.
3. Thick, creamy lattes with the perfect amount of kick.
4. Quiet offices, libraries, and places to work and study.
5.  Big, fat, juicy, sumptuous wonderful HUGS.
6. The catchy ring to a pop song before it's been overplayed.
7. Dancing, especially late-night club dancing with hot, sweaty crowds of people who are equally happy to be shaking and moving right alongside you.
8. Standing in lines in grocery stores and catching up on trashy magazines.
9.  Getting engrossed in a new novel or a story.
10. People-watching from cafes, porches, or benches.
11. Splashing water in a swimming pool, jumping off diving boards, and laying out in the sunshine on a lounge chair with friends.
12. Unexpected sunshine, especially in San Francisco. Good heat waves, with 90+ temperatures and sweat dripping down the back of your t-shirt.
13. Baking cookies, particularly chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal-raisin cookies, or snickerdoodles.
14. Trying out new dessert recipes (the latest: cream puffs) or making the family brownies.
15. Having a project canceled or finishing a deadline early and NOT being too busy.
16. Meeting new friends.
17. Running into old friends in unexpected places, or reconnecting with people I haven't seen in a long time.
18. Putting my thoughts into words; describing things to people, explaining a new concept or idea.
19. Good old-fashioned making out.
20. Holding hands. :)
21. Writing songs, books, short stories and poetry.
22. Tutoring and teaching little kids.
23. Talking for hours on the telephone.
24. Running. Running fast, slow, jogging, pacework and on trails through the woods.
25. Racing and competing.
26. Having dinner parties.
27. Riding my bike.
28. Getting a great night's sleep.
29. Being relaxed enough to sleep in (this is a very rare occasion)
30. Taking sunshine naps with cats
31. Playing, talking, and running around with little kids
32. Gardening and digging in the dirt. Watching plants grow over months. Harvesting food from my own garden.
33. Quilting and sewing. Fixing old things rather than buying new things.
34. Daydreaming.
35. Hiking
36. Beaches.
37. Magazines: all sorts of magazines. Nerdy, financial ones, business ones, graphic design and landscape; short stories; the new yorker; vanity fair ... all of them. I like them ALL.
38. Redwood trees, camping, and the smell of pine
39. Not showering for 3 days
40. Long, hot, slow showers and big, delicious bubble baths
41. Yoga classes with really good teachers. Finding an edge in an uncomfortable pose and finding the breath to be free of discomfort.
42. Handwritten letters and cards.
43. Good wine, gin & tonics, and a really cold beer on a hot, hot day.
44. Barbecues and backyards and handstands.
45. Being surrounded by really great people.
46. Hamburgers and french fries on Fridays.
47. Fresh salads, garden vegetables, crunchy peppers, and unusual food.
48. Clothes that feel as comfortable as pajamas.
49. Outdoor picnics. Even with ants.
50. The occasional trashy television show. Current guilty favorites: Big Brother and Bachelor Pad.
51. Learning how to surf, feeling a still quiet on the board. Forgetting about freezing cold water and wet skin. Seeing the shoreline from the water's edge.
52. Meeting new people and hearing about where they come from, how they became who they are, and what they spend time doing.
53. Listening to music, especially live music.
54. Being outside, anywhere, anytime.
55. Big, shady, wind-rustling trees. Trees that swallow you up and give you a backbone to sit against, like a big parent, giving you a hug from which to sit back and watch the world.
56. Large batches of homemade soup on cold winter days. Meals that take more than24 hours to prepare.  Cooking big feasts for large parties.
57. Snowy days, cabin fires, running naked in the snow, sitting in saunas.
58. Hot chocolate.
59. Playing with puppies, cats, and animals. Finding the sweet scratch spot behind the ears.
60. Hanging out with my family. Spending lots of time with my cousins, new babies, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

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