How to be happy

Sculpture by Anne Mimi Sammis.  Located at Narragansett Beach, RI.

Sculpture by Anne Mimi Sammis. Located at Narragansett Beach, RI.


Lately, I’ve been working on HAPPY — that elusive state of being that people are always trying to achieve.  Seems like a good summer project to me.  I’ve been on antidepressants for fifteen years, and I recently decided to wean myself from them.  I want to see what difference fifteen years of living and learning has done for me.  So far, so good.

As an exercise in mindfulness (or as mindful as my over-active brain will allow), I’ve started making a list of the things that bring me joy.  Sometimes, I surprise myself.

(By the way, my list is not numbered. If you want to know why, it’s because I hate numbers. They are so often used to measure worth, as in too old/too young/too fat/too thin/too short/too tall.  They grade and degrade you. Numbers do not make me happy.  Ever.  If I were a mathematician I would probably feel differently.  But, I am not.)



Always put butter on your bread when making sandwiches.  Because who really wants dry bread?

Stand up straight.  Your spine will thank you.  When I was in my early twenties I took beginning ballet lessons for a couple of months.  It was hard, but exhilarating.  I know what a plié is.  The ballet teacher taught us to picture a puppet string sprouting from the top of our head pulling us upright. I still imagine this.

Swim in creative waters every day.  See a rose in the dandelion; a butterfly in the wasp.  Paint a word picture.  Sing a story.  Make some noise and call it a song.

If you are lucky enough to have stairs in your home, run up them whenever possible.  Taking them two at a time is even better. Move your body.  Shake it, wiggle it.  Dance your feet off.  Promote yourself to the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Take time to daydream.  Revel in it.  If someone says you’re a dreamer, say — Thank you.  If they point out that your head is in the clouds, tell them  — Yes, I know.  (I’ve had this whole daydreaming thing pretty well mastered since about second grade.)

Always taste the ice cream as soon as you get it home.  The amount of pleasure you get is commensurate with the meltiness at the top of the container.

Be satisfied.  If you can’t be that, be patient.  (I’m holding out hope that eventually I will own a car with four doors instead of two.  It doesn’t have to be brand new.)  Stuff has a shelf life.  Memories last a lifetime.

Embrace your fear.  I am afraid of heights.  This does not bother me.  I don’t believe I am missing out by not conquering this fear.  I have no need to climb mountains, parachute from planes, or bungee jump from insanely high bridges. If anything, I’m increasing my chances of avoiding serious injury or premature death.

Laugh.  Because, endorphins or something.  It’s easier on your shins than running, and doesn’t make you sweat.

Be kind.  Because, duh.  Kindness is as simple as smiling at a stranger.  It reverberates through the universe.

Read out loud, even if it’s only to yourself.  If you have them, read aloud to kids.  The happiness quotient raises exponentially with the number of kids.

Also, just read.  Read for the words.  Roll around in them.  They are lovely. Read for the story; the escape; the characters.  Read for the child you used to be who got scolded for reading at inappropriate times.  You are an adult now. You can read any damn time you want.  (Whoa . . . just writing that last sentence released a whole swirling cloud of endorphins.  I can tell.)

There.  Wasn’t that fun?  Now you do it, go out and create your own list. What makes me happy is not a panacea.  Happiness isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  Keep adding to the list. That’s what I’ll be doing.  And if you’ve a mind to, feel free to share the things that make you happy, too.

We’re all in this together.

36 thoughts on “How to be happy

  1. Nice list – I need to laugh more, especially at myself. I recently read an article with my students about characteristics of grit – there are five, according to the author. One is excellence vs perfection – doing my best makes me happy… I’ll work on my list.. and see what I come up with.. in the meantime stay happy, be happy, don’t worry.


    • Laughing is a truly good thing, Clay. Especially at oneself, because we are all so amusing at times. Excellence vs perfection is a tricky thing. I have always belived that adage – “Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” But it’s also a slippery slide into perfection. You have no idea how often I consider not hitting the “Publish” button on my posts because they are not good enough.

      Have a happy, laughter-filled weekend.


  2. I love everything on your list. Everything! Reading your anthology brings a warm smile to my face and a desire for hot chocolate and gooey caramel (good writing always does!)
    I love daydreaming and rolling around in words the most. For my list, I’d add: reread the fairy tales–they are so much better the second or third time around.
    Thank you, Mary. I love your pursuit of happiness…I’m gonna start my list right now 🙂


    • I LOVE FAIRY TALES!! Those were the first stories read to me and it sparked my passion for words, reading, and daydreaming.

      I’m glad you’re going to start your own list. Please share as you go, and I will do the same! 🙂


  3. Taking a nap on Sunday afternoons makes me happy. Reading my sister’s Wilderness of Words, and sometimes listening to her sing me happy birthday on my phone (I kept the message and every 21 days I get to re-listen, re-save). And seeing how many things on your list Mary are the same ones I have on my list. I not only love to read out loud (ask Dennis), but when I get really old, my kids know they are to read out loud to me:)


    • I didn’t know you still listen to my happy birthday singing . . . I should leave little songs more often on your voice mail.

      You are so fortunate because now you have grandchildren near by to read to!! Since I’m so far away from them, I send them the books, and you can read them aloud.


      • Yes, I still listen…and when I read the books you have sent out loud, and remind them they are from their Aunt Mary, they will still hear your voice as well. After all, how many people have said we sound a like on the phone.


  4. Love your happiness project. What a great idea for summer. Couldn’t agree more about correlation between melty ice cream at the top and pleasure. Really like how you define embracing fear. Not everything needs to be conquered and overcome. Just got back from a lovely walk outside too, so safer to just say I agree with your whole happy list! Summertime seems the best season to try a wean off antidepressants. Did it myself last May. Your list strikes me as a healthy, happy start.


  5. Last summer was such a miserable summer, health-wise for me. It lingered through the winter into spring. Nothing serious, as it turned out, just a couple of weird fluky things that have been dealth with now, so I feel like I’m going this summer head-long and determined to make count.

    Good to know someone else has weaned themselves successfully from antidepressants. At least, I presume it was successful? I actually began the process at the beginning of April and am feeling good about it. One step at a time.


  6. What I love about this list is that these things are simple. Simple in a good way! You don’t have to run out and buy something (well, except the ice cream). No equipment, no new technology … just BE aware of the things around us that make us happy.
    This list is comforting and real and so very do-able!


    • Simple, mostly free – yes! That’s it exactly. Seems like you have your own happy list going through the lens of your camera. You are aware of the things around you and by capturing them with your camera and share them, make us aware also. So thank you, Laurie!


  7. Mary, it just makes me happy knowing you are out there feeling these wonderful feelings and then sharing them with us. And about lists: every once in a while I find an old list and realize that I never did most of the things on the list and the world continued to revolve and no harm done that I ever detected.


    • I can’t tell you how much your comments mean to me, Ronnie. They add to my happiness.

      To-do lists. Bob is great with them and encourages me, but I’m with you. I lose them and then later find that I failed to do many of the things. And yes, the world does continue to revolve. Aren’t we lucky?!


  8. I need a list, one that I can tote around- if only in ‘me noggin. I’ve gone most of my life NOT being happy. I can talk happy, write happy, promote happy. But the being of it has always been a bit more elusive. I think people misunderstand me when I say something like this. I think they envision me sitting home, drinking wine and crying inconsolably as I listen to Radiohead whilst throwing darts at a poster of the Osmonds. And that’s not it at all. For one thing, I would never drink wine while listening to Radiohead….it’s redundant. And for another, throwing darts at a poster of the Osmonds makes me really fucking happy.
    I love your list. And just so you know, your writing is on my happy list.


  9. I know exactly what you mean about not being happy. It isn’t the same thing as being miserable. I think you should put the dart-throwing at the top of your list. (My writing can be second ).

    The way I’m feeling today, I think I’ll get me a big ol’ pin up poster of the SCOTUS boys and throw darts at that. I’ll get extra happy points for hitting ’em where it counts.

    Thanks, Cayman!


  10. Hi there! That was a lovely post My name is Aruna, a doctor by profession and I am new to blogging ..I posted something related to an exercise I did a couple of months ago about happiness…#100happydays . Here’s the link to it… do visit when you can.

    Take care and keep getting lost in the words…. yours are lovely..


  11. Reblogged this on Balram.tomar645 and commented:
    After going through it, you would certainly realize that happiness is not a term which we usually associate with our comfort zone. It can only be felt by doing in whatever we achieve pleasure, a type of satisfaction. Happiness can only be felt , it can’t be described in written words…


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