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A few words on happiness. Actually, six.


in introspection,media

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 shards of brilliance… read them below or add one

sashalyn July 12, 2012 at 9:11 am

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


Bob July 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

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


Elizabeth July 12, 2012 at 9:19 am

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.


Sandi July 12, 2012 at 9:20 am

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


Rachel, BacknGrooveMom July 12, 2012 at 9:27 am

Romantic Comedy Chardonnay Licorice Dog (on) Lap

Getting Comment From MOM101 On Blog

Missing Boys even Before They Leave (for camp)
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Catherine July 12, 2012 at 9:27 am

Making my husband laugh out loud.
My daughter snuggling under my arm.
When books make me cry.
Watching The West Wing again.
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HaB July 12, 2012 at 9:33 am

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)


Beth July 12, 2012 at 9:38 am

Bike ride, hot bath, cold beer.


Isabel @alphamom July 12, 2012 at 9:49 am

* 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
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Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

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.


Brendan July 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

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


Kelley July 12, 2012 at 10:03 am

These are totally making me cry.
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Kelley July 12, 2012 at 10:04 am

In a good way, that is.

Gratitude holla!
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Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm



Annie July 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

Summer – my toes between cool sheets
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Kelley July 12, 2012 at 10:19 am

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.)
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Joanna July 12, 2012 at 10:41 am

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


Lenette July 12, 2012 at 10:52 am

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
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CarrieB July 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

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.)


Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

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.


Katherine Stone July 12, 2012 at 11:06 am

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 …


Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Now I’m starving. I will share that board with you any time.


leanne July 12, 2012 at 11:11 am

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.


Robin (noteverstill) July 12, 2012 at 11:16 am

Ripping protective plastic off new electronics.
Listening to water run through pipes.
Embroidering, girl talk, wine all together.
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Grown and Flown July 12, 2012 at 11:39 am

My kids being really close friends
Watching husband plays sports with our kids
Family dinner even with fighting
Dinner on the porch in summer
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Ashley Austrew July 12, 2012 at 11:46 am

“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.
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Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm

If only I could do it all the time! But it’s something to aim for.


JenW July 12, 2012 at 11:48 am

A hug from my son: thirteen.

Husband laughing at my funny story.

No particular plans for the evening.

DVR recorded my favorite TV show.


Sarahviz July 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

Coming home to a clean house.
Cake batter ice cream.
Reading a book on the beach.
Hotel sex (with my husband!)
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Gillian July 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm

* 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


Karen July 12, 2012 at 12:03 pm

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.


Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 12:18 pm

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.


Sleeping Should Be Easy July 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm

My husband home early from work
My toddler singing songs off key
A full night’s sleep
How I Met Your Mother
Other people’s good news
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Redneck Mommy July 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

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.
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Tricia July 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm

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!


Issa July 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm

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.
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Angel themommytsunami July 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm

-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.
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Ginger July 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm

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…
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Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

You had me at “dancing with my husband…”


Heather July 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm

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


Sarah July 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm

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.


Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

That is so wonderful Sarah.


Tali July 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm

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


Korinthia July 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm

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.
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Tonya July 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Coffee before the kids wake up!


magpie July 12, 2012 at 4:39 pm

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.)
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Mom101 July 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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


Fairly Odd Mother July 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm

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)
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Karen July 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm

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.)
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Purdybird July 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm

-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


middling July 12, 2012 at 11:40 pm

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.


juli July 13, 2012 at 12:39 am

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…. ;)


Elle July 13, 2012 at 1:13 am

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


Mom101 July 13, 2012 at 8:07 am

“reading all of these.”


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes July 13, 2012 at 6:59 am

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
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Nickle B July 13, 2012 at 8:27 am

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


Marija July 13, 2012 at 9:54 am

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.


Lauren Forden July 13, 2012 at 11:13 am

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


Alyssa S July 13, 2012 at 11:26 am

The glitter aisle at Michaels
Fresh bloomed gardenias
Little hands in my hands
Standing in the summer rain
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Elise July 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm

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


gabriela July 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm

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.”


Julie July 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

“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.


Julie July 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm

er…that should have been

“Holding hands just before falling asleep.”

Too bad I can’t count to six. ;)


Clio July 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm

-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.
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Jeanette July 14, 2012 at 9:21 am

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
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Kathy V. July 14, 2012 at 11:06 am

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.
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Tracy July 14, 2012 at 8:00 pm

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


Delania July 15, 2012 at 12:14 am

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.


Ami July 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm

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!)


SarahA July 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm

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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