A few words on happiness. Actually, six.

This week I was lucky to have an excuse to spend time with Gretchen Rubin – I interviewed her for a speaker series at my company. Nothing like mixing work with the people you love and the books that changed your life.

Because Gretchen’s area of expertise is happiness, I have, of course, not stopped thinking about it in various forms, all week. Nor have my co-workers. Gretchen tends to have that effect on people.

There was a fun exercise after the panel, in which the attendees were asked to write down the strangest thing that makes them happy in 6 words or less, (huge hat tip to SMITH Magazine). I joked earlier that my answer was Watching Real Housewives uninterrupted, and one of my male colleagues said, “I HATE that show! It makes me crazy!”

“Exactly,” I said.

“Nate feels the same way. So there’s something about knowing that Nate is off at work that night and that I’ve got an uninterrupted hour with no one around to make fun of me or criticize me or roll their eyes at my choice.”  I can just lie there in peace, with the kids asleep, thinking about absolutely nothing of importance or pressing societal value for a whole sixty minutes.

And it’s awesome.

Even if it’s not as erudite an answer as “Reading Chaucer and sipping Oolong.”

But hey, one of Gretchen’s points in her book is that acknowledging the hobbies and activities you enjoy (Twilight novels! Angry Birds! Drinking White Zinfandel with ice cubes!), whatever they seem to say about you, is a big contributor to happiness too.

I would add things like The misspellings on my kids’ artwork.

How Sage can’t say her R’s.

Photos of grandparents I never knew.

Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.

Watching children in a museum.

(I also thought about how hugging my kids at the end of the day still makes me happy. Although I wouldn’t call that strange.)

Some of the other answers from other people were really wonderful:

The smell of dirt

Watching The Sound of Music

Folding laundry

The girders on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Getting to break the six world limit. (Ha)

But I think my favorite was: Finding empty parking spaces.

When I’m walking around and I see a big, comfy, cushy space smack in the middle of a busy New York block and I think, wow, someone is going to be really happy to get that. And that makes me feel good. And then Gretchen and I both confessed that we get the same feeling seeing a taxi drive by with its “available” light on. It makes us think, hey, I could go somewhere right now if I wanted! Anywhere, almost! There’s something incredibly happiness-making when you’re faced with possibilities and no right or wrong answers, no consequences. Just a big old, “what if?”

I started to analyze the things that make my kids happy and how that changes–or will change–over the years. About how Thalia today can just cuddle up next to me in the nail salon, without getting any services, without playing iPad or reading a book, because, as she says,  she just likes to be there with me. I thought about how funny it is that Sage is so happy when we jump in bed to read the next chapter of the Oz books and she gets to be on my coveted right side. For some reason, the right side is the BEST side in her world.

Then I realized something else after a few days of reflection: it actually makes me happy to think about the things that make other people happy.

Just thinking about another person smiling as she watches Do Re Mi for the 400th time, or comes home to a freshly made bed makes me feel good. Watching thousands of New Yorkers fill the intersections acrosss 23rd street last night for Manhattanhenge simply to cheer a sunset, made me happy–in part because I felt their joy too.

That’s a pretty cool thing. And I think, when I’m feeling kind of down or cynical or anxious or whatever is the opposite of happy, I want to try and work hard to think about other happy people–not to mock them or question their authenticity, but to find some inspiration of my own. It seems like a good plan right now; we’ll see how it goes.

So tell me, in six words or less, what is the strangest thing that makes you happy?


70 thoughts on “A few words on happiness. Actually, six.”

  1. Being kind to service people.
    The “Chicago wave” (giving or getting.)
    Watching thunderstorms & smelling rain.
    Any 75 degree day.

    1. The moment a student gets it.
      The memory of a first kiss.
      Knowing where you need to be.
      Being where you need to be.

  2. Choosing my own TV show.
    Working out uninterrupted.
    Intercepting a pass to a forward. (Soccer. Reading it right makes me smile. Every time.)
    Finishing an book in one sitting.
    The smell of dirt post-rain.

  3. Hanging clothes on the line. Alone.
    Eavesdropping on the kids’ silly conversations.

  4. Making my husband laugh out loud.
    My daughter snuggling under my arm.
    When books make me cry.
    Watching The West Wing again.

  5. The smell of fresh laid asphalt
    Sourdough toast with lots of butter
    Green lights all the way down Franklin St (I live in a small, rural, tourist town in Upstate NY – There are about eleventy billion stop lights along the 2 mile stretch that is main street)

  6. * when my son retells stories of his babyhood that he heard from me and my husband
    * when my sons’ school friends say Hi to me
    * a big bright full moon (especially if shining on water)
    * seeing the cherry blossom trees in full bloom

    1. Oh I LOVE hearing my kids tell me about their “childhoods.” They can’t quite tell what they remember and what they’re “remembering” from our stories.

  7. Seeing my wife laugh during movies
    Running during crisp days in autumn
    Reading a book that makes me think
    Eating a delicious meal lovingly made

  8. Watching my husband watch Le Tour.

    (Last night he asked for clarification on a detail one of the announcers had just said, and I had to tell him that I had no idea, that I just liked being on the sofa with him, seeing his excitement, and looking for George Hincapie, who happens to live in our town.)

  9. being engrossed in a great book
    sleeping through the night
    good food on an empty stomach

  10. My morning coffee
    Fruit on sale at the store
    Watching birds eat in our feeder
    My kitchen with no clutter
    Watching my girl love babies
    Capturing memories in photos and video

  11. Learning that others share OZ too.

    (How old is Sage again? Because I’m trying to figure out when my daughter will be old enough for me to read her the Oz books, the way my mom read to me.)

    1. She’s 5, but we started when she was 4.5. She doesn’t get it in the same way her sister does, and I stop a lot to explain things or I change up some of the harder or more dated language. But she loves them…as indicated by the fact that they act out “Ozma and the Gnome King” a whole lot.

  12. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Hot Dog Dance.

    It’s a tradition in our house that whenever that song comes on we all drop what we’re doing and dance around like dorks. This is major happy making.

    Shirts. Shorts. Shirts. Shorts. Shirts. Shorts.

    Madden can’t say her r’s either. I know I should be encouraging her to fix that but I still think it’s the cutest thing “evew”. We ask her to say shirts and shorts over and over again and they sound like the same word.

    Cheese board. Marcona almonds. Quince paste.

    I’m starving …

  13. Sleeping without coughing. (I’ve been sick.)
    No fevers mean no Tylenol. (my kids have been sick, too.)
    Watching my daughter pedal her bike.
    Learning something new from my son.
    Watering my garden in peace.

  14. My kids being really close friends
    Watching husband plays sports with our kids
    Family dinner even with fighting
    Dinner on the porch in summer

  15. “And I think, when I’m feeling kind of down or cynical or anxious or whatever is the opposite of happy, I want to try and work hard to think about other happy people–not to mock them or question their authenticity, but to find some inspiration of my own. ”

    I love this. The world would be a better place if we all thought this way.

  16. A hug from my son: thirteen.

    Husband laughing at my funny story.

    No particular plans for the evening.

    DVR recorded my favorite TV show.

  17. Coming home to a clean house.
    Cake batter ice cream.
    Reading a book on the beach.
    Hotel sex (with my husband!)

  18. * freshly shucked briny raw oysters
    * watching my parents with my kids
    * loud favorite songs in the car
    * funny jokes told by my husband
    * homemade chocolate chip cookies
    * the feeling after a 5K
    * my kids laughing together
    * summer tomatoes freshly sliced
    * plain seltzer
    * the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

  19. Hearing my kid belly laugh.
    Kissing my sleeping boy.
    A new episode of Mad Men.
    Big chunks in my Chubby Hubby.
    An empty in-box.
    Old married couples holding hands.
    Random acts of kindness (doing/receiving).
    Taking time to accessorize.
    Listing things that make me happy.

    1. Every one of these is so amazing. I’m not commenting on all because I’m just reading, smiling…and as Kelly said, a little emotional.

      I’m going to read this thread forever.

  20. I’m happiest when

    my family is together
    my husband makes the kids laugh
    the dog snores softly at my feet
    a hummingbird hovers at the feeder
    when Knox knows who I am.

    Add in some guacamole, salsa, chips, a mojito and the laughter of some good friends and that is happiness perfection as well.

  21. Morning sunlight on bricks
    Ice cold coffee and boiled eggs for breakfast
    Radiolab on a long walk
    My son’s tush (I cannot believe I’m admitting to that. But, truly, you have to believe how cute and round and perfect his baby tush is.)
    Project Runway starts next week!

  22. My kids learning new skills.
    My girls reading late into the night.
    My son swimming the length of the pool. (The doesn’t count right?)
    A sunset.
    The ocean.
    Dates with each of my kids.
    Driving and my favorite song comes on.
    Sitting on my back porch.
    Homemade ice cream.
    Opening a brand new book.
    Liquor store having my fave wine in stock.
    Seeing people be kind on Twitter.
    Planning our staycation.
    New episodes of Rizzoli & Isles.
    Beating a hard level on Angry Birds without having to text my best friend for help. 😉

    I really think that being able to find happiness in the small things is what makes life better. So many people talk about happiness in big huge terms. I’ve always believed that if you can find it in the small things, you’ll lead a happier life.

  23. -popping bubble wrap
    -being in the same room with my three sisters. Anywhere.
    -loud music in my car with the windows rolled down and summer air breezing into the car.
    -my sons saying anything funny and laughing with them
    -sitting at the beach with the sun beating down on me, sand in my toes, and my boys playing together.
    -a pedicure.
    -a phone call with my mom.
    -ice cream
    -inside jokes with my sister Lana

    Awesome post. Thank you.

  24. Freshly made bed right before bed
    Two chapters before finishing a book
    Dancing with my husband in odd spots (subway station: check. Elevator: check. Comic-con: check. The list goes on).
    Knowing my work is kick-ass
    A burger after the beach
    Floating in the ocean
    My son’s laughs, hugs & kisses
    And the way he says packpack (backpack)
    And yells MOMMY when I walk in
    Pulling in my driveway after work
    Writing something people connect with

    The list goes on…

  25. Tomatoes that taste like tomatoes
    Not rushing
    Watching my 4yr old dance
    Going for a run and seeing open sidewalks ahead
    Feeling connected

  26. Eavesdropping on my 4 year-old sing songs to himself under his breath. Oh lordy that makes my heart sing. He was speech delayed and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get that gift.

  27. upcoming girls’ weekend w/ college friends
    deep breathing ocean air
    my daughter saying “you’re fun mom!”
    a kiddie leg squeeze while cooking
    constant affirmation my husband is amazing
    lazy nights with my daughters
    early morning cuddles under covers

  28. Using freshly sharpened tools.
    Watching Dr Who with my husband.
    Dog “singing” during kids’ violin practice.
    Getting rid of stuff.
    Any clear surface in my house.

  29. rum raisin ice cream
    finishing the times crossword puzzle
    sending postcards in the mail
    kissing my sleeping daughter on the forehead
    spending the day in the kitchen

    (did you read calvin trillin’s book “tepper isn’t going out”? it’s about parking, and new york. it’s delightful and weird.)

    1. AMEN to the crossword puzzle!
      But I don’t think that’s strange. anyone should feel happy about that, right?

  30. Making people laugh or even smile
    My dog snuggling next to me
    Hearing a heartfelt “thank you!”
    Watching my kids play with friends
    Seeing my husband play with kids
    A good, not-to-hot run
    Really loud songs from the 90’s
    A vacuumed house with clean toilets (really)
    Sushi, ice cream, warm cookies, and gooey pizza (but not all at once)

  31. My first cup of coffee in the morning.
    My son’s belly laugh.
    The field of wildflowers near the zoo parking lot.
    Cold water after a run.
    The smell of my daughter’s freshly shampooed hair.
    Cooking without interruption.
    Long, hot showers at night (I get to hog the hot water.)

  32. -That moment when you realize your child has just grown up a little more
    -the right hug from my husband
    – climbing into bed w clean sheets
    – perfect coffee in the morning
    – Cold beer. Warm night. Good tv.
    – fun dinner w friends mid-week
    -playing friend matchmaker

  33. petting trees. I love the feel of bark and wood under my hand. Smooth or rough, warm or cool – it always feels satisfying and comforting.

  34. waking up to a clean kitchen
    warm rain
    my daughters belly laughing together
    baking bread
    grocery shopping
    wandering a farmers market with coffee
    planting gardens
    harvesting gardens
    giving a homemade gift
    using my homemade hot pads
    rainy sundays
    morning cuddles
    great mama blogs…. 😉

  35. *reading all of these
    *husband’s gasping-for-air laugh
    *espresso first thing in the morning
    *taking the subway home slightly drunk

  36. The smell of the earth after rain.
    My child that gives me a kiss.
    Rereading Pride and Prejudice for the umptheenth time with a glass of Merlot to keep me company
    My daily piece of extra dark chocolate
    Watching my girls discover all the fun things about childhood.
    The look on my daughter’s faces when I ask them if they would like pancakes for breakfast
    Making said pancakes for breakfast.
    Eating said pancakes for breakfast.
    etc etc etc

  37. Butterfly kisses from my boys, towels straight from the dryer ( especially when its cold, the feel of baby powder on the tile floor, smell of rain, sitting on the beach in September, a great sale, the smell of new crayons. Peeps

  38. Sunday morning summer breakfast in backyard
    Snowy quietness of winter morning
    Loosing to my son in Wii
    My daughter breaking into spontaneous dance
    Shopping for sexy lingerie with my husband
    Being appreciative and polite to store clerks/telemarketers/call centre agents/postman/taxi drivers… (essentially anybody that will never meet me again and is providing me some kind of service)
    People walking/biking anywhere
    Strangers sharing a bit of themselves
    Farmers looking bright and happy

    I remember watching a documentary from CBC that explored various ways on making people happy. They took couple of folks, and basically said: we’ll pay for anything you want. So folks got pedicures, Lamborghini rides, a weekend in nice hotel… and everybody was pretty much the same a week after. Then documentary demanded from them to re-connect with someone important in their lives: so folks got some time with good friend, estranged mother, neglected brother… and everybody felt better one month later. Then documentary demanded those folks help someone else. So folks went and helped charity, put some work in neighbour’s yard, helped relative with cancer. And all of them felt happier and fulfilled even couple of months later, some of these “helps” turned out into fulfilling hobbies/relationships. It really made me think that we as species are not well equipped to understand what brings us lasting happiness. And what makes us tick is more related to other people being happy, then us having our wishes met.

  39. hanging laundry outside in the sunshine
    seeing wildlife IN my yard
    knowing I’m needed at work

  40. The glitter aisle at Michaels
    Fresh bloomed gardenias
    Little hands in my hands
    Standing in the summer rain

  41. Waking up before my alarm.
    Hearing my daughter pronounce recorder “decoder.”
    Seeing the odometer click 1000 miles.
    Bagging my own groceries.

  42. my kids telling me they love me — unprompted.
    hearing my kids being nice to each other – – unprompted.
    my big dog sitting on my lap pretending to be small.
    walking the streets of brooklyn during summer evenings.
    ice cream
    hearing/seeing good friends i haven’t seen in a while
    the beach — especially in the evening.
    hearing my daughter say “you’re the best mom in the whole world.”

  43. “Watching Rebecc@ and M@rg@ret play together.”
    “Holding hands just before sleep.”
    “Eating the perfect French fry – yum.”

    You probably already know of this book, but just in case you don’t, check out *Have You Filled a Bucket Today?* by Carol McCloud. It’s about how making others happy is a great way to make yourself happy. My five year old LOVES it.

    1. er…that should have been

      “Holding hands just before falling asleep.”

      Too bad I can’t count to six. 😉

  44. -The smell of a clean house. (I don’t use scented products
    but you can just smell the clean.)
    -Watching family open my gifts.
    -The sound of my daughter babbling in her crib in the
    morning as I wake up.
    -The sound of a loon on a lake in the dead of night.

  45. An hour alone at home
    Soft red mud between my toes
    Tucking in my dog at night
    Loud rain on workshop’s metal roof
    Mixing paint
    Drawing dream farmhouses

  46. Novelty socks.
    Getting comments on my blog.
    Mid-day drinks with friends and babies.
    Anything with Colin Firth.
    Bubbles, flowers, crystals, butterflies, fluffy clouds.
    Creating something worthwhile.
    Being mistaken for younger.
    Inventing six-word answers about happiness.

  47. I tried doing this everyday and then… stopped. What a great reminder and great list! a few coming to mind…

    weather event TV coverage
    my daughter belting made up lyrics
    the heart on my father’s sleeve
    deleriously crashing to sleep
    dusk, outside, with friends and wine
    watering tomatoes during conference calls
    complements from strangers
    complimenting strangers
    the first shoots of spring
    100+ point words in WWF
    sound of rain through open windows
    my kids moods at daybreak
    bedtime cuddles with kids
    my husband’s accent
    shopping with my mother

  48. Making my kids laugh out loud. I will say any outrageous thing I can think of to make this happen.
    Perfectly fried eggs on toasted homemade bread.
    Starting a great book, finishing a jigsaw puzzle.
    Dozing off on a beach, knowing hubby is watching the kids.

  49. Picking and eating perfectly ripe apple
    ditto for mango

    Succesfully preparing well-received new recipe

    Finding the perfect gift for someone

    Song that was just stuck in my head comes on speakers at store
    (okay that last one was more than 6 words, but I don’t know how to edit that one down!)

  50. Opening boxes
    My daughter dancing to street musicians (she’s 2)
    Getting my husband to eat vegetables
    Waking up naturally before the baby
    Being offered a hand to hold

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