The lovely Sarah wrote, a while back, about happiness lists–collecting together all in one place reminders of the things that make you happy, the things you want to achieve, the things that are important to your mental health and well-being. It is something I like to do, occasionally: consider all the small things that are good and right and perfect and without which the world would be a sadder place. And then sometimes, things suddenly get tough, sometimes with what feels like no good reason, and all the small things that make me happy go flying out the window, and I forget to care.
I remembered that happiness list last night, when I was riding my bike through the dark, up to E’s house. I passed the park, and through the trees was the quiet roar of a crowd watching a free concert, and the sprinklers had come on and the grass and the earth was wet and the air was cool and I realized, suddenly, that this was exactly what summer has always smelled like, to me. This fresh and wet, clean and earthy smell is exactly perfect and exactly right. After years and years of knowing I was missing something but not knowing exactly what it was, here my childhood came rushing at me through the dark, in Utah of all places. I was happy to be in Utah.
I pumped the pedals harder and shot through the intersection and
laughed, because there’s no way my mother would have let me go ride
around the streets at night, and it was everything that was good about
being an adult mixed with everything that was good about being a kid,
stuck together with a healthy heaping of nostalgia and happiness. That
happiness buoyed me through the night and most of today, and happiness
begets happiness, I think, because my list of things that are good and
perfect, my list of reasons for living–if you will permit me to be
completely reductionist and also absolutely serious–expands and grows
and overshadows the difficult things and the tiresome things and the
irritating things that are so easy to dwell on and pick over and tend
and let grow into a Dark Forest of Discontent.
The list started with the perfect smell of a childhood summer, and
racing through the dark on my bike, and being completely and totally
independent and boundless and free, and then it ranges far and wide–the
pleasure of being creative, of starting with nothing palpable and
ending up with something real that you have spun out of nothing at all.
A perfectly ripe cherry; peanut butter toast with sliced bananas in the
morning. A cup of freshly made, hot coffee with rich cream. The smell
of my boyfriend’s neck, even better than coffee. A crazy dog who is
crazed with happiness to see you and not just because you’ve come to
feed her. The mountains, as big as the sky. The heat of the sun, which
melts all the way through you, and the icy cold from the
air conditioner, which slices you thin and shakes you awake.
Ice pops. Feather pillows. Anticipation. Gorgeous shoes and boy cut panties. Wearing nothing but gorgeous shoes
and boy-cut panties, and the look on your sweetheart’s face when you
do. Ice cream. Cherries. Cherry ice cream. A fat black cat who follows
you from room to room. Chilled white wine; the transition from day to
dusk to night. Night lights, an overcast sky, a fully lit skyscraper;
the completely black and winding canyon road at one in the morning; a
hand on your knee and the windows open wide. Kisses. Kissing. Waking up and realizing you’re exactly where you want to be, and not having to move for hours.
Finished manuscripts. Emails full of good news. Phone calls that end in
I love you. Hilarious text messages. Trashy novels. Bubble baths. Soy
candles. Real bacon for breakfast. Purring. Body heat. A sense of
accomplishment. A sense of perspective. A sense of acceptance and the
peace that follows afterward. Deciding that something is none of your
business, and the accompanying giddy freedom of that.
Reading for hours, napping, a memory foam mattress, the slant of sun on
a polished wooden floor, the first sip of an iced latte, Legos,
coloring books, crocheting a scarf. Chopping celery, a rib at a time.
The smell of paper. A full bookshelf. The library. The perfect
compliment. The perfect and perfectly-timed pun. Shopping for dresses,
opening a big check, making lists, having a game plan. remembering
something you swore you wouldn’t forget, remembering something you had
forgotten. Remembering happiness.
What’s on your list?