I’m tempted to start with the word thing because it’s just so darn versatile. Things are awesome and the word itself can be tacked onto the end of dozens of others to form some of my most beloved crutch words. The word thing obviously makes me happy—except when I’m digging my way out of a snowstorm of edits.
What else makes me happy? A lot. I’m a happy person. I can get stuck in negative grooves, and there are thoughts and situations I have to actively shift my focus away from before I dig that groove any deeper. But in general? I’m happy. And the things that make me happiest all feel relatively simple—which is nice, because we’re living in a time where finding gratitude can be difficult.
So, here’s my list. Hopefully, it will lift your spirits as well.
When the sun is out, I have to be outside. It’s like I have a magnet inside me that draws me out of doors and into the light. I love the feel of sunlight on my skin, my face especially, and the way it seeps into my bones. In the autumn, I tell myself I’m storing up energy for winter, and I spend as much time outside as possible.
I love winter days where the sun is out and giving off just the barest kiss of warmth. I walk two miles a day around my neighborhood, and in winter, just seeing the sun—and feeling it—makes my walk something I look forward to.
I never really thought about color until I studied art. Our teacher had us start with charcoal and pencil. After a couple of months, we graduated to ink washes and pastels, still in shades of white, black, and grey. Then, after six months, we painted in colour.
I’ll never forget the experience of discovering what each colour looked like on the canvas and what happened when I mixed it. What made one colour stand out, and another blend in. I fell in love with colour and still enjoy playing with it as an artist and photographer, but also in my garden (so many flowers), my wardrobe, on my plate, and in my home. My quilt cover might horrify some, but the brightness of it makes me very, very happy.
Max is my 5.0 V8 Mustang GT. I adore him. I saved for a long, long time for Max, and without fail, a drive with Max will remind me of what I have to be thankful for. He’s a beautiful car and I love taking him up past Bushkill to where the roads are long and winding and I might be the only car for miles. I love the sound of his engine and the throaty burble of his exhaust. The exhilaration of traveling at a great speed is difficult to ignore.
I can’t drive Max and not be happy.
I’ll forget to listen to music for months at a time. I’ll be caught up in a series of audiobooks that I listen to as I drive, walk, clean, cook, and work in the garden. I don’t listen to music as I write, because I find it distracting. I don’t listen to anything when I go hiking because I’m out there to let my mind rest. I used to listen to the radio in the car sometimes, but they killed my favourite radio station (alternative hits) and I’m too cheap to pay for satellite radio. I do have music on my phone, but I’m always eager to get to the next chapter of my audiobook.
While we were all stuck at home last year, I spent a weekend revisiting my music collection—the vinyl I’ve kept all these years, my CDs, and my digital library—and discovered that just sitting with one of these albums did more to calm my Covid stress than anything I’d previously tried. Especially Pink Floyd. I now make time to listen to music more often and I’m thinking about pulling out the keyboard and teaching myself to play the piano again. That always used to make me happy.
There’s something about a path disappearing from view that I find impossible to ignore. It’s like the sunshine effect. I’m pulled along regardless of my wishes. Seeing as I’m usually there to hike, that’s not a bad thing. As I mentioned earlier, I never listen to music or an audiobook when I’m hiking. I prefer to listen to the sounds around me: the birds, the little critters rustling through the bushes and around trees, and the movement of wind through the canopy overhead.
I love the smell of the forest (and the desert) and the feel of the ground beneath my feet. The way my shoes swish against sand and dirt and grip rocks. I enjoy using my body as I climb over rocks and around trees. I’m always thankful for my health and fitness when I hike, even if I have to stop to catch my breath.
There is nothing like reaching your destination. The view of the valley or the waterfall or the chasm or just that funny-looking rock. Then there’s the sweet exhaustion afterward and the knowledge you can add about nine hundred calories to your diet that night (woohoo!).
What I love most about hiking, though, is the headspace. I’ve let my thoughts wander for several hours, and for the most part, the hills in my head have been worn smooth. I might not have solved all my problems, but I am at peace, and that spaced out, everything’s cool feeling can last a good couple of days.
I could continue listing what makes me happy for several pages. There is a lot about my life and our world that I enjoy. Family, friends, my cats, good health, writing love stories, reading love stories, spaceships and aliens, terrible movies, sad movies, pizza, noodles. Noodles make me extraordinarily happy. Hoppy beer and good company. The Walking Dead. The Great British Bake Off.
A lot of my list is possible because of my health and privilege. Except for Max, however, I like to think my list is made up of simple concepts and activities most people might be able to enjoy. Because happiness doesn’t have to be complicated. It can feel that way, especially when we’re focusing on the negative and trying to force that curve into something we can work with. The negative will always be there. Trust me. So, take a break from it and poke your head outside. If the sun is out, smile and wave, and then start looking for the colours. Regardless of where you are, they’re there. I promise. Listen for the music. Seek out a path and follow it around the next bend.
Look for your happiness and you just might find it.