Happy, Pt. 3

Here are my entirely arbitrary rules for compiling my list of go-to things that can perk me up when I’m feeling down. Everything on the Happy List has to be fairly specific. Nothing too vague, obvious, or insipid such as “reading a good book,” “spending time with family and friends,” or “doing kind things for others.” (As delightful as all of those things are).  “Jetting off to Monaco for the weekend” or even “spending a weekend in NYC” don’t count, but “ogling the zebra finches, who spend their days pooping on the exquisite wrapping paper that lines their equally exquisite bird cage at Caspari on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville” does. The basic requirements: specific, doable without too much planning or forethought, and free (or nearly free).

Here’s what’s in my Emergency Happy Kit: 

Visual Therapy:

  • Looking at photos of puppies on the Puppyfind website, or for more diversified animal therapy options: the Cute Overload website
  • This video of my nephew chortling with wild abandon. Watching this video will make you feel like you won the happy lottery. I can’t get the link to look pretty, but click on it and make sure you watch the best part, between seconds 30 and 34.

https://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=4154171446026″ width=”720″ height=”480″ frameborder=”0″>

  • Certain photographs of my own family. This set for instance:

Retail Therapy (Closely related to Visual Therapy, because no purchase necessary to get the mood-enhancing benefit): 

  • Stationery stores. Paper, paper, paper.
  • Fabric stores work too. I don’t even know how to sew, but looking at all the different fabrics makes me inexplicably happy…I know. I don’t get it either.
  • The greenhouse at Merrifield Garden Center.
  • Browsing in the children’s picture book section of any bookstore in the evening all by myself.

Food and beverage:

  • Smelling Earl Grey tea. It’s better than drinking it. But the best of all is to alternate bites of Breyer’s natural vanilla ice cream with sips of Earl Grey tea that’s served in a pretty teacup, naturally.
  • A green tea latte from Starbucks, unsweetened. Looks vile, tastes divine.


  • Spending an hour or two playing my ukulele and singing songs from my Daily Ukulele songbook.

OK, now it’s your turn…What gets you out of a funk? READY? GO! Please leave a comment to share what’s on your list!

Happy, Pt. 2

I am descended from a long line of forbears who, well, forbore. My maternal grandfather survived a massacre of Christians that wiped out three generations of his family in one day. During the Japanese occupation, he was repeatedly arrested and tortured. In his old age, long after he had incontestably earned the right to snooze all day long in a comfy armchair with his mouth hanging open, he would rise before dawn every single day to scale a mountain. He would scramble back down that mountain, plunge himself into a bath with large blocks of ice floating in it, and then head off to carry on the business of running a university.

My maternal grandmother was also a survivor of war, occupation, and their attendant horrors and privations. She came through the experience as a formidable warrior. She made no secret of her reverence for the Spartan civilization. You know, those militaristic people who would leave sickly infants to die of exposure on the sides of mountains and who would starve and literally whip the small children who passed muster into shape to toughen them up to be soldiers? Yes, those were her kind of people.

My paternal grandfather died young, leaving my grandmother to struggle for survival. Some of her children succumbed to disease and malnutrition. It’s entirely understandable then, that having passed through the crucible of unimaginable hardships, my dad would emerge on the other side to preach the gospel of “Where in the Bible does it say you have to be happy?” on Christmas Eve.

Less comprehensible is how I turned out, given my genetic inheritance. The only explanation I can think of is that the gene for stoicism must have skipped a generation. If you’ve been reading along, you already know that the proximity of a spider is enough to destroy my happiness, (though in my defense, it was a shockingly big, stripy, furry one). My latest tragedy is that the internet has been erratic and agonizingly slow at my house. I’m telling you, it’s been making me gnash my teeth in despair. I can’t pretend to be like my steely ancestors. Me? I yearn for happiness like a lovelorn adolescent. I stalk it like a craven addict looking for her next hit. When I find it, I greedily clutch it to my chest and swat away anyone or anything that tries to snatch it out of my white-knuckled fists.

Just as it doesn’t take much to destroy my happiness, it doesn’t take much to make me happy either. For me, it can sometimes be merely the successful avoidance of discomfort. For example, every time I stay home while the rest of my family goes hiking or camping=pure bliss! (Pretend I’m homeless by sleeping in a tent on the cold hard ground with bugs and no running water or AC when I could be in lounging in the comfort of my own bed watching trashy reality TV? Puh-leeze! That would be messed up)! Sometimes I find happiness in those sublime everyday moments of grace, such as when I finally extract a piece of corn that’s been stuck in my teeth forever, or when I experience the satisfaction of  peeling away a really long strip of dead skin from my heel. (What? Don’t even try to tell me that doesn’t make you happy, too)!

And even though my claims on happiness are really quite modest, every once in a while, it will flip me the bird and flounce off like a faithless strumpet. I’m left feeling bereft and hopeless…It’s in those dark moments, that I have to exert a little more effort to find a way to drag happiness back into my corner. And here, at long last, is where I’m going with this long and meandering, multi-part post…What are your strategies for finding happiness? I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours. More on this tomorrow.

Happy, Pt. 1

For many years my dad was the minister of a Korean congregation that was part of a much larger American church in Northern Virginia. Listening to my dad, (a.k.a. The Easter Island Head), give a sermon was always something of a revelation. Six days out of seven, he was a soft-spoken man of very few words. Behind the pulpit, however, he would transform into someone we barely recognized. His voice would thunder, swoop, and dive. He would gesticulate, he would lean forward, he would hiss. Even his silences were mesmerizing. My siblings and I could only understand a few words of Korean here and there, but such was his oratorical prowess that even we would be swept up in the dramatic ebb and flow of his sermon along with his enthralled congregation of native speakers.

One Christmas Eve he was asked to preach to the American congregation. The large sanctuary was overflowing with families dressed in their festive Sunday best. Their eyes shone in the candlelight and their cheeks were rosy as they squeezed into pews draped with ropes of fragrant fir boughs. There was a palpable sense of joyful anticipation as the congregation settled in to hear the familiar and well-loved Nativity story. As for me and my siblings, we were glad that we would at last have the opportunity to understand every word of our father’s sermon!

My dad has always been an iconoclast. Never was this more obvious than on that Christmas Eve, when he eschewed the Bible passages one might reasonably expect to hear on such an occasion for something far more unconventional…No glad tidings of great joy, no babe lying in a manger, no lion lying down with a lamb for my father. Instead, he chose the passage from the book of Revelations that talks about the breaking of the seven seals and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. You know, the one with flaming swords, earthquakes, cataclysms, blood and slaughter? In short: all the ingredients for a heartwarming and uplifting Christmas Eve service! One memorable line in particular will forever be etched into the very marrow of our bones. We invoke it at suitable moments to this day. At the climax of my father’s sermon, we heard in the thunderous intonation we knew so well from his Korean services: “Where in the Bible does it say you have to be happy?!