Last week was a tough one. Wednesday as our nation watched the Capitol being stormed by marauders, I imagine we all felt like we’d traveled to an alternate universe where a despotic president ruled and he had awakened the unruly. Watching the live coverage, I found myself bursting into tears, unusual for me. I’d just heard LA County had directed their ambulance drivers to pick up only those who had a chance of survival as hospital beds were at maximum capacity and…wait for it…there’s now a shortage of oxygen.
Between the doom and gloom of the coronavirus and riding a political roller coaster that can make your stomach drop with every check-in of the news, it’s all a bit much, isn’t it? I turned off the TV, threw myself into designing a client’s master bathroom and it worked; while distracted, I was pulled out of the vortex of sadness. But it got me thinking, what are some other ways to find happiness? Just in case you’re still feeling like I was, a bit rutted in the muck of melancholy, I thought I’d make a list of 10 ways to find happiness in 2021.
1. Do something for others: I don’t know why this one works, it just seems to. On those weeks when I have a case of the Mondays that continues Tuesday through Sunday, if I ask myself, “What can I do to help someone else?” it takes the focus off me, and thus, my woeful mood. Side story: the other day, Kai, our five-year-old, and I were in the car, driving to a friend’s house to drop off some desserts I’d made as as a sign of, we can’t be with you, but we care about you. Steve Winwood’s Higher Love was playing in the background and Kai asked, “What’s a pie of love?” I laughed as I realized when Steve sang “Bring me a higher love” Kai was hearing “Bring me a pie of love” because, in a way, that’s what we were doing delivering baked goods: bringing pies of love!
If you think you, or someone you know, could use a pie of love, this recipe for a Bakewell Tart from the Downton Abbey Cookbook, is delicious. (PS, I received the Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Cookbook for Christmas and have since tried three recipes, Cream Scones, Ginger Biscuits and the Bakewell Tart and they’re all worth making.) If you’re a fan of raspberry and almond flavors, your taste buds will be more than happy with this tart!
Update on my rattan cart: I’m still in the honeymoon stage with my rattan bar cart which I gifted myself (good ole retail therapy!) and quickly repurposed as a dessert cart. I usually keep a dinner bell on top which I ring to signal dinner is served (because it’s fun to ring a bell and sometimes actually necessary to get both husband and son to the table). After the meal, I roll the cart up to the dining table to offer a postprandial dessert course. This fills me with glee to no end–unless I turn on the news, The Great Glee Evaporator, soon after, and then the happiness dries up. Lesson: consider watching less news.
2. Surround yourself by pretty things. I’m a firm believer that our environs play a huge role in our mental well-being. When we’re in a beautiful setting, our moods magically start to elevate. I know not everyone can afford to transform their home but it can be the little things like serving your meals on decorative plates with stylish silverware or using pretty cloth napkins, instead of their less Eco-friendly paper cousins, that make all the difference.
I requested these napkins for Christmas and I’m so glad I did. A set of 20 is $32 (making each napkin $1.60) and you get a random bunch. I’ve never used mismatched napkins before, but there’s something liberating about it and all the colors are so vibrant and cheery. I was worried the colors would run and I’d have to wash them separately, but they haven’t and since we’re using them at nearly every meal, they’ve been washed quite a bit. Their consistency is a bit more like a handkerchief than a regular cloth napkin, but that almost makes them more comforting to use like you’re wiping your mouth with a hanky. 🙂 Similar source found here.
In other news, I recently ran a row of sake cups down our table and popped a votive candle in each. Now the cups serve as unexpected tealights and add a welcome twinkle during dinnertime. Other pretty votive holders can be found here or here. Here’s one of the napkins in use, below.
3. Staying connected with others: This one’s hard, right? These days getting together can feel downright homicidal, so the responsible ones among us avoid it. In an effort to find a way for some of our family members to stay in touch, JB’s dad devised a weekly song review of American Standards via Google Meeting. Prior to the set date, someone in the group picks a song from the Great American Songbook and his dad emails us You Tube links to up to fifteen versions of the same song recorded by various artists. Before the meeting, we listen to and rate the different versions.
We convene on Saturday night, when each of us takes a turn reading aloud our picks starting at number fifteen and working our way up. While the main focus is rating the songs, there’s also squealing with delight when someone else gives the same ranking you did, or recoiling with “Really? What did you like about that version?” and, of course, catching up on the week’s events. With a time-certain of one hour, the catching up is kept short but sweet. Note: We discovered Zoom is only free for the first 45 minutes so we recently switched to Google Meeting which doesn’t cost a thing.
4. Add a comforting ritual to your day: After binge-watching The Crown, The Royal House of Windsor, and The Great British Baking show (a show that’s both comforting and uplifting if there ever was one–watching it has become my happy place), I’ve rediscovered my inner-Brit (my family is half British so the quest was quick). I grew up with the proper reverence for the principle that “a cup of tea cures everything,” but had strayed from the custom. I think “the cure” works, in part, because it forces you to take a break and sip something warm and comforting. Now I’m making green tea because my mom recently reminded me of all the health benefits of green tea ; (it also helps to make a cup of tea when what I really want to do is grab a cookie–this is my new weight-loss solution: drink lots of green tea!) But black tea has its benefits as well–I’d count the taste, with milk of course, as one of them.
5. Get moving: When you look at how much energy kids have and how they’re always pretty cheery, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t because they move so much more than we do as adults. So now, I’m moving more, too. Back in March, when I first started homeschooling Kai I devised a schedule that included a segment called Movement. It soon morphed into playing loud music and running laps through the house in a game of tag or “tagyou’reit!“ as Kai pronounces it as one long word.
There’s no denying the uplifting power of listening to great music and we all know exercise is good for us. After we combined the two into a game of tag, the exercise became fun, not a chore. No matter how sluggish I may feel when we get going , when the music starts and we begin running, I rev up, warm up (an added bonus during these chilly winter days), and, after a few rounds, the endorphins set in. We limit it to three songs (some of our favorites being: Sexy and I Know It, Moves Like Jagger, Move to Miami and Pump Up the Volume–essentially anything with a pounding beat). I exaggerate my arm motions, like I’m a power walker from the 80s, because that seems to work the waist more. I chase Kai or he chases me but sometimes I slow it down into a Tai Chi version of running with long, extended movements. It feels like it’s working a whole other group of muscles and is a great way to work up to a faster pace.
6. Give yourself a break: We place so much pressure on ourselves to constantly do so much and take in so much information while doing it which can result in feeling fried, frazzled and frustrated: the three Fs. (And they’ve shown no one’s really good at multi-tasking anyway.) Giving yourself permission to be still and just be, could be the reset you need to get back out there, stronger and better–especially if you can be mindful enough to avoid starting the rush-rush-hurry-hurry cycle all over again.
But I also mean make things easier on yourself. My mom bought me this jar opener because I’m always yelling at lids I can’t open, followed by thwacking them on the kitchen mat until they loosen. I can stay off the kitchen floor now (and cease the swearing!) because this simple thing I installed under our kitchen cabinet, where it’s hidden unless you’re looking for it, has removed the stress of opening jars from daily life and makes opening lids a new-found pleasure. It seems like a small thing, but it removed the stress of struggling with jars which, when added up, was a big thing.
7. Get lost in a book instead of the news: Some nights, instead of turning on the news (or The Great British Baking Show), it feels like the greatest treat to crawl into bed and read. If there’s ever a time to try to silence the din of what can feel like a very dystopian new world, I’d say it’s now. Having a book you can look forward to reading at the end of the day, can be like leading a clandestine other life. Covid-19 may curb our literal travels, but not our literary travels; we can go anywhere we want through the pages in a book.
The other day our local librarian recommended The Friend by Sigrid Nunez to my mom who read it and then recommended it to me. If you’re a dog lover and enjoy a bit of raw, irreverent writing, The Friend may be just the book you need to help escape the Covid-constraints of the real world. I was so engrossed in reading it, each day I’d look forward to the moment I could sink back into the story.
8. Clean your house: I know, ick, ugh, yuck. No one in his or her right mind really likes to clean, do they? But after it’s done, your house feels better and you feel better for having done it. I learned a big lesson last year when I sold my old car. I’d loved it, but it was getting up there in years and had the transmission problems to prove it. I put it up for sale, but before I did, I cleaned the heck out of it and suddenly it had my heart again. I have a hard enough time parting with cars, but when all the dust, dog dander and Cheerios crumbs were wiped away, she sparkled and looked almost new. I hugged her seats and told her I was sorry for selling her and, a year later, I still wonder if we parted too soon.
This is all to say it’s much easier to move on to a new car than to a new home, so try cleaning the one you have and see if some of the “romance” comes back. I know whenever I, begrudgingly as it may be, give our house a deep-clean, I feel happier about how it looks. The other day I realized it was time to trade out the paper whites around our house for something less winter-holiday. Thankfully, a good friend was kind enough to pick me up some white orchids at the farmer’s market. I lined a faux clam shell with plastic wrap, placed the orchids, added river rocks to hold the orchids in place, and added moss on top to camouflage the rocks. Suddenly I liked our living room so much more and all it took was cleaning off the coffee table and styling it.
Get some rest! Not only does sleep help repair our bodies and keep us healthy, but studies show we’re happier when we get a good nights sleep. But what if you’re filled with gut-wrenching anxiety and can’t sleep? Deep breathing sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax so you can successfully fall asleep. I like to use the method of breath counts, breathing in through my nose for four counts, holding my breath for a count of seven, then breathing out for a count of eight. Breathing exercises where the exhalation is longer than the inhalation can have immediate effects lowering blood pressure, altering the pH of the blood, and reduce the body’s production of harmful stress hormones.
10. Be thankful: Depending on what’s going on in your life, this one can be tricky. I’ve found when my mind starts to dip into the depths of darkness, I can usually yank it back on course by making a mental list of all the things I’m thankful for. When I get to around number five, the fog starts to lift and, thankfully, gratitude and happiness take its place. Research also shows there are health benefits to practicing the art of gratitude.
You made it to the end of the list! Hurray! I hope you’ll find solace in knowing if you’re struggling to stay happy, you’re not alone. We’re all trying to survive this storm and it’s so easy to get swept away. I hope some of these tips will help you find your footing and find happiness in 2021. If you feel like you cannot lift the fog of unhappiness, there are people available 24-hours a day to help at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255.
Sending good thoughts your way! Happy New Year!