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Thinking About Happiness

The publishing world is a weird one, and a VERY slow one. I'm currently waiting for word from editors/possible editors on three books on submission. So while I have those irons in the fire, it's a good time to start whipping up the next project. 

This new book is a different one for me. Contemporary, with a foot in the magical side, a lot less food, but still partially set in Italy.  But most of all, it's a book about happiness. 

Why happiness? Because so many of us are desperate for it, including me.  We're in the midst of our third year of a global pandemic which has exacerbated a variety of economic problems (supply chain, inflation, employment, etc.). Now most of the world is on the edge of their seats watching the war between Ukraine and Russia, watching with horror as war crime after war crime is committed by an egotistical, maniac, dictator--hospitals bombed,  tanks running over cars with ordinary people inside them, apartment complexes shelled until they turn to rubble. Our global economy is already feeling the effects as oil companies gouge on gas prices (which will lead to more and more supply chain issues as trucks become costly to fuel).  Sometimes it might be hard to even think of happiness when there are so many people truly suffering. And often these people suffering are people we know. People we love. 

As part of my research (and perhaps my own self-help), I've been reading a lot about what makes us happy.  One of the first books I picked up was Joyful, by Ingrid Fetell Lee. 


In Joyful, she describes a myriad of fascinating ways that humans are moved by small things, like the color of a wall in a room, or fuzzy slippers, or the curl of a warm cat next to you on the couch. 

I have thought a lot about this book, because joy ("an intense, momentary experience of positive emotion") is different than happiness.  Fetell Lee not only describes that in this TED video, but she shows you too. 

The book gave me a bit of confidence I didn't realize I needed. The thing is,  I love color. The main colors in my house are bold reds punctuated by pops of other bright colors. We have contemporary art (Shepard Fairey is a fave) all over the walls, often mixed in with a mélange of ancient maps or music posters.  I just dyed the underside of my hair red, a bright contrast to the blonde. It peeks out, "like a phoenix rising from the flames" a woman told me (joyfully!) this week when I was dining out.  Crystal King, red tipped hair

I definitely do not live in a Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn world of muted grays and earth tones.  My car stands out on the highway from the blacks, whites, grays and muted other colors. 

But there has always been a little underlying concern. I'm no longer a kid, so should I be dying my hair in such a crazy fashion? Will it mean that people take me less seriously?  When I pull out my laptop in a meeting (which admittedly, hasn't been the case for a bit seeing as everything has been virtual for so long) will I be judged for all the stickers covering the lid? When my husband teases me for my faux fur coat in a riot of pink, white, and brown splotches and calls it my "Muppet coat," will others laugh at me too?

As I age, I do worry less. I have much more of a "fuck-it" attitude than I did when I was in my youth.  Plus I think that all these quirky loves of mine make people think I'm much younger than I actually am, and I am definitely ok with that.  And in my day job I work for a company who hires predominantly younger people (I'm seriously 20 years older than 93% of the company) so my love for wild things seems less of a jolt than it has when I've worked for more stodgy tech companies in the past. 

A credenza display

I also worry less, because I am starting to find that not only do these things give ME joy, but that others find joy in some of these bold choices of mine.  "I love your hair/electric blue leather jacket/glitter boots...I wish I was brave enough to wear something like that." 

I always think to myself, why aren't you? What's stopping you? What would happen if you did? 

I buy flowers when I want to. I admit that I love playing video games (when I used to be embarrassed because a serious intellectual, a writer, shouldn't I be doing something else?). I am drawn to street art and strangeness.  I am curious about the weird things on the menu (this weekend I had a drink that had cream cheese powder in it!!). I am drawn to the color, the shape, the uniqueness of a thing. 
A curled up catstreet art in Rome ItalyGelato

One of the things that Fetell Lee says in her book is that once she started noticing what types of things bring people joy, she started finding joy everywhere. I too have found this to be true. Like my profound appreciation for this cool wallpaper in the bathrooms at one of my favorite restaurants in Cambridge, The Lexington.IMG_2963

And the best part of all these moments of joy is that they add up. When you are looking for these little pops of joy, they help bring about a greater sense of happiness overall.  At the end of my day I always write down three things that brought me joy, and honestly I can say, those little moments of joy are tiny beacons of light in the darkness. 

I'll leave you with one more thing that never fails to make me feel pure elation. Every time I see the fur cup and spoon art, Object, by surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim, I feel incredible joy.  I remember as a child being so curious and fascinated by the pictures of this piece that I saw in my Childcraft Encyclopedia. It seemed so strange, so wonderful, so impossible. When I first saw it in MoMA, decades ago, I cried a little. Tears of happiness to finally see this thing of wonder, this art that brought me such pure and true joy, that I never expected to see in person in my lifetime. 

Meret Oppenheim, Object

What brings you joy?