Thursday, October 27, 2011

The ONE THING that makes you happy

JAN BROGAN - There's a scene in The Help (great movie, great book) where Minny, the maid, is really angry, and someone mentions cooking, which she loves, and all her anger dissipates. I think she even smiles.

And it reminded me of one Christmas, a transitional year, when the kids had just stopped believing in Santa Claus. My daughter, the first born, was too old to get excited about toys, but still too young to get excited about purses and boots. I had to spend a lot of time shopping for her presents, searching all the things that would make her happy. When she came down Christmas morning, I could tell she was disappointed. It wasn't enough.

Devastated, I called my mother, and my mother's advice was this: "Start cooking and you'll feel better."

And she was right. Once I started cooking, I felt better. I completely lost myself in the sweet potato recipe and pie shells. And since then, I've understood that for me, cooking was the one thing that could change a dark mood.

So here's my question Reds. What's the one thing you do that makes you happiest? Now, DO NOT SAY WRITING. And DO NOT SAY helping others, or anything that a Miss America contestant might say. Be purely selfish here and reveal what's the one hobby, pastime, (non-career) pursuit that brings you peace and/or happiness?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Floating. Yes, floating .We have a pool in our back yard, and in the summer, Jonathan and I have two pool floats, we call them Gumbies because they're green and flat. (I'm going to give you every detail, since you asked.) We get our bathing suits on, and our current books in hand. Meanwhile, we have diet cokes in the freezer, getting icy. Then we take our drinks and our hats and our sunscreen, and float around the pool in the warm sun and blue sky, reading and floating and reading and floating. The pool intake moves you around on the water, so it' s like being on a little raft, perfect and quiet. The garden around the pool is filled with flowers and butterflies, and the two huge ancient trees reach to the sky. Lying on the pool floats is the only time you can see to the top.
Sometime at night if I'm restless, I just think about floating.

RHYS BOWEN: I’m actually happiest when I’m sitting at a good meal with friends and family and we’re all laughing and teasing each other, but solo happiness? Walking on a beach, feeling warm sand between my toes or letting gentle waves lap at my feet, bending to pick up shells. Or snorkeling if I am in the right sort of ocean. Both those pursuits and I lose all track of time and I’m in my own private world, not thinking, not worrying, just in the present. In August I was snorkeling in Kona and I’d bought a disposable underwater camera—and it didn’t work. I kept turning and turning, waiting for it to click to the next frame and guess what? The fish were fascinated by the turning sound. I had zillions of fabulous fish inches from the camera and my fingers… and I couldn’t take a picture of them. Never mind, it was a perfect moment.

LUCY BURDETTE: If you're taking away all our beauty contestant answers Jan, liketime with friends and family, that still leaves a couple. Yes, I like to cook, but I like to eat even more:). Another thing would be reading a great book, lying in bed, with the cat rumbling next to me and the dog on the floor on the other side. A book like THE HELP or AFTERTASTE (whose author visited us not too long ago)--something that really takes me into a new world--not too scary and with lots of good food.

HALLIE EPHRON: Mmmmm, floating. Mmmmm, eating. Mmmmm, cooking. And of course hugging the people I love. I'm a big hugger and sloppy kisser (so watch out).

I'm also very happy when I'm walking and walking and walking and my feet don't hurt. Also soap. Big chunky bars of lovely scented soap make me very happy. Also long leisurely baths.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Walking around my garden. I don't even have to be doing anything, just enjoying the work I've done and planning the next round of activities. I probably look like a crazy lady doing it. Yesterday I had a small breakthrough computer-wise (finally succeeded in setting up new computer and using multiple screens) and I treated myself with a glass of red wine and a stroll around the garden. It was amazing.

Can I add another? Singing at the top of my lungs in the car. Alone. Traffic, bad weather, lunatic drivers - nothing can bother me when the Ipod is working and I'm belting out a tune. "I got some change in my pocket but it wasn't enough....!"

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I know Jan said just one, so it's probably a good thing that some of you have already hit a few of my biggies. So ditto on all of the above (especially baths. And I love walking my dog late at night, just the two of us.)

But I have to add, London. London makes me happy. England has always made me happy, but nothing compares to London. (I know I say this as a stock part of book talks, but it doesn't make it any less true.) And just walking. For hours. No particular destination necessary. And it's a deep, welling sort of happiness, not just contentment, although contentment is no bad thing. And it makes me happy just thinking about walking in London . . .

JAN: So how about the rest of you. There are lots of little things that bring us peace or pleasure, but if you had to pick ONE, what's the one thing you can count on to make you happy?


  1. Walking along the beach. Any season is good, early spring is best.

    Regular walking is nice, too.

  2. I go to a lot of movies. Because I tend to see them early in the afternoon on weekdays (it's my top hit-my-wordcount-for-the-day reward), the theaters are uncrowded to say the least.

    Once in a while - 3 or 4 times a year, say - the lights drop for the trailers and I realize I am the only one in the auditorium. That makes me very happy. What this says about my personality I'd rather not explore.

  3. So much of what makes me happy has already been mentioned (cooking, baking, gardening). I also love cranking up the tunes in the car and singing along. My upper body moves to the music, the other drivers probably think I'm strange. I wish I had further to drive than the grocery store most days, that's barely enough time to finish one song!

    We have six hens in our backyard. In the late afternoon if I sit on the lawn chair in the shade, one of the ladies will get on my lap, settle down while making little chirps, and sleep. Bliss.

  4. Steve, we won't pursue:). Lu/Grace, that chicken image is so sweet!

    I forgot to add that I have two wonderful classes--one pilates, the other yoga. They feel just right--hard enough to get me out of my head, and soft enough to stretch my body in the ways it needs to be stretched.

    Since floating season is over, let's all go to London with Debs!

  5. Love reading what makes others happy, and knowing that those activities are also ones I'd choose, like snorkeling, which I did for the first time two years ago! Fabulous, especially when I realized I could wear a life vest and not have to worry about drowning.

    But, other than family, the two things that make me happiest, that lower my blood pressure and bring unending smiles to my face, are walking our farm, and riding horses. I'd never even been on a horse until four years ago, and we bought our farm in Kentucky about 11 months later, a place with wonderful riding trails already cut. Someday I will combine those two pleasures and ride on my own place. Someday soon, I hope.

  6. Feels so weird, sitting here grinning, but reading these is making me happy.

  7. Hands down, it's listening to an old Jerry Lee Lewis album, Killer Country. Listening to him sing about misery, loss, and destructive relationships, just lightens up the day. His take on the above is hilarious, and the CD notes are funniest I ever saw, must have been written by one of his ex-wives. Mary Moody

  8. Old cemeteries. Okay, I know that's weird, but I've been a genealogist for decades and I'm always looking for lost ancestors. I make a point of saluting all those buried in a cemetery--I figure I'm keeping their memory alive, even if they no longer have a family around. And I think they appreciate it--otherwise, why do I end up in front of a cemetery every time I get lost while driving?

  9. Reading. Just reading, hardly matters where. I've noticed occasionally I'll be out of sorts for a couple days, a little off-balance. And I'll realize the problem is I haven't allowed my brain to check out for a couple hours and be swept along by a good plot. If I stop *doing* and *fussing* and making so many lists for a couple hours and sit down with a good book, I'll find I'm refreshed and balanced again. It's my biggest luxury and something my husband comes close to calling an addiction. I can live with that.

  10. Deborah, tugged at my heart. England! Oxford and Cornwall most of all. We visited in 1996 because our son took his junior year at University College, London. He met us at Heathrow, all smiles and a cold. We took the tube to Earl's Court and walked the three blocks to our rental flat. We were so exhausted and I stopped to put my bag down. But I really wanted to kiss the ground -- the Motherland! But looking at our son's concerned face, I said, "No, I won't embarrass you by kissing the ground!" From him, a visible sigh of relief and, "Thanks." Just thinking of that trip makes me happy.

  11. I suspect the little thing that would make me happy would be to remember to email in my contribution to the group blog so it doesn't get lost! Honestly, I'm going to have to get a tattoo on the back of my hand that says "Each and every time, no exceptions!"

    That being said, the thing that makes me most happy is reading. It really doesn't matter where, so long as I can get lost in a book without interruptions. In some ways, reading on a plane is preferable to reading in my own comfy chair in the living room - since chances are slim I'll hear anybody calling, "Mo-om!" on a flight. :-)

  12. Baking cookies, eating ice cream, working outside in the sunshine. But if I have to pick just one....if I'm really feeling would be lying down, hugging my dogs, and getting lots of doggie kisses in return!

  13. Sheila,
    Oddly, I understand what you mean about old cemeteries. Actually, nearly any cemetery makes me feel extremely peaceful.

    And I guess its not so odd that so many of you (Roberta, Julia, Tammy ) say reading. For me, now that I write, reading is less complete escape because I am always analyzing. But in those moments when I can get completely swept up - it's awesome.

    But its still work to make that transition. so I think I may try the Jerry Lee Lewis album Anonymous suggests. Or Steve's mid-afternoon movie. (it would feel so DECADENT)

    Because I was limiting myself to ONE THING, I didn't mention, Lu/Grace that I lOVE singing the car. I actually have singing exercises on my I-POD, and I find that if I do them on the way to a tennis match, or a speaking engagement - I do much better. I think it gets me out of my head and into the moment.


  14. Being outdoors makes me happy.

    Feeling the sun (or fog or rain) on my face when hiking in the woods, walking the beach or reading in the hammock.

    Great topic, Jan! Like Hallie, reading everyone's responses was a delight!


  15. Deborah, do you remember which famous dead man said "when you're tired of London, you're tired of life"?

  16. I get happy when I play hookie. Doesn't have to be for any particular reason. For example, I should be working but it's glorious outside so I decide to putz around with my dog, stop in at the shops or the coffeehouses where people know me, say hi, buy myself a treat of some sort...Or playing hookie could mean me saying, Screw it, I'm staying in my pajamas all day and reading--no chores! Or when a friend calls out of the blues and says, Let's do such and such right NOW.

  17. Leslie, that would be Samuel Johnson. And my sentiments exactly.

    Steve, I totally get the movie thing. Love going to matinees by myself, and the very best is when there's no one else in the theater. Call us weird.

    Can I add curling up on my sofa with a good book on a very gray day????

  18. Taking my long walk up and down the hills until I get to the salt marsh, and then back. It calms me, exercises body and spirit, and lets me marvel at the change of seasons and occasional spectacular bird sighting.

    Or gazing at my sons. Really. They are ages 22 and 25 now and I NEVER get tired of it.

    So the very best thing? Taking my walk WITH one son or both. Sigh.


  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Ah, Samuel Johnson! One of several possibles I had in mind, but yes, it had to be him! Thanks, Deb!

  21. Laundry. Sorting it, loading up the washing machine (or hand-washing with green soap in a sink), taking it out, hanging it up in the garden, bringing it in dry, ironing it (with the radio on). Every part of that makes me happy. I love it when the hamper is full and the sun is shining.

    An Edwardian theatrical hamper with I.TROY painted on the side. I like to think that Iolanthe Troy was a mad old trout of a character actress touring the north of England with her company (the hamper was made in Yorkshire).

    Beast of a 1960s toploader bought for $20 at an estate sale.

    Two Victorian cast-iron clothes poles I dug up and brought with me from Scotland to resink in my new garden and string a rope between.

    A pulley in the scullery for when it's raining - cast-iron parts imported, wood and rope bought here.

    Tumble-dryers? Pah!

    So that's my main source of quotidian happiness. I don't care if you judge me.

  22. Catriona,

    I'm not judging you. I'm wishing I WERE YOU. I can't tell you how much easier my life would be if doing the laundry brought me happiness.

    I do, however, understand, the happiness of bringing fresh, sun-warmed, clothes IN from a clothes line. I love the smell.


    And Edith, I'm with you on gazing at my kids!

  23. Wildlife in any form makes me happy. Birds, deer, squirrels, lions, hippos. Even spotting an intricately camouflaged moth can make my day. Well, okay, I make exceptions for mosquitoes, fleas, flies and ticks. I'm not crazy.

  24. husband says any time I see an animal I get happy. And it's dog can instantly get me out of the foulest mood and we take a lot of trips specificlly to see wildlife. I wonder why that should make us so happy.

  25. Ro and Pam,
    I think it makes total sense, given that no matter how we try to dress up and abstract things, we're animals, too.

    We need to get away from that running commentary in our brain that's got to have the last word on EVERYTHING!


  26. Catriona, you can do my laundry any time . . .

  27. Oh, this is so much fun to read! So peaceful...

    Cat, I love ironing. You start out with all that wrinkly stuff, and end up with perfectly flat stuff. Man's shirts are the best.

    And also--riding on the Acela in the quiet car. I'm going someplace wonderful--NYC or home. I get diet coke on the way there, red wine on the way back. I look out the window at the water, and just think, or read, and no one can get me. And it is SO quiet.

  28. I am nuts for gazing at the fog or the rain if the weather gods cooperate. I love to read, and it is a special joy on a gray day.

    If I can really say only One Thing, then it's this: Creativity is what rings my bell and brings me peace. I can be creative with cooking (but not always), with dreaming up poetry (or stories, but you said we can't say writing), with painting or drawing a sketch, with singing, and even while repairing something mechanical. The common thread is I lose myself in the activity. As the saying goes, the dancer becomes the dance. I think runners call it the zone.

  29. Catriona, Hank{ I've a pile of laundry waiting to be ironed, going back to when my children were infants and my mother would keep sending these little embroidered dresses with smocking!

    Ironing is something I am not good at and thus stay away from wherever possible--thank God they invented the steamer!

    I think the only domestic thing I really enjoy is polishing furniture. So satisfying.

  30. Reading a really good mystery (good in my eyes, we all have diff taste)

    walking along beach, or just sitting and watching the waves hit shore

    Watching snow fall, especially at night, then going for a walk in the peacefullness and purity of the fresh snow

    Time with good friends

    Snuggling with my poochie, she is so cuddley

    Iknow, more than one, I've never followed directions well :)

  31. Don't worry Mar,
    no one follows directions well.

    maybe that's why we are writers?