What’s Your “Happy List”?  

Being proactive during interesting times.  

At the time of writing, Western Australia is going through our “living with COVID” experience.  Many people I have spoken to have described “bunkering down” and limiting their social events, in the hope of avoiding becoming sick or affecting their work.  It is a challenging time for many of us, requiring adaptability and trying to reassure our fears, as well as enjoy what we do have.

I remember when we went into the first COVID lockdown in 2020, and there was a suggestion of finally having time to do many of the things, that we often feel too busy to do during our usual routine of working and socialising.  I’d like to encourage you, that this too can be a time of gentle reflection and coming back to good realisations of what enhances your happiness.

When I think back on most of the happiest experiences of my life, there is a realisation that the experiences were either often unplanned and happened spontaneously or, that they were planned and looked forward to for a long time.   They may have been moments between me and another person or activities that I enjoy.

What is a Happy List?

As a psychologist, I like the idea of people developing more thoughts and ideas about what would be on their “happy list”.  A list to go to at any time to remember and replay what has made you happy in the past, as well as experiences that you’d like to repeat and you may deliberately plan for your future.

Let’s start with an appreciation of what has made you happy in the past, and see how similar and different your list is to mine.  See if you can come up with at least four areas of experience which have made you happy in the past:

Number one on my list would be relating to people.  As a psychologist, I enjoy being with people and hearing their stories, and the connection I have with the people I care about.  Here’s some that have made it to the top of my list:
  • The delight of hearing your/a child laugh, not just laugh, but that belly kind of laugh which is often infectious and you find your mouth curling into a smiling laugh reflexively.
  • Laughing with your best friend/s.
  • Feeling a sense of belonging within a group of people.
  • Developing an intellectual connection with people you believe to be wise, or feeling understood by, and respected by people you respect.
  • Feeling supported by another person in a warm way.
  • Developing an interconnectedness with my patients, of understanding and regard for each other which ultimately results in them learning new psychological skills and about themselves.  As serious as the topics that we discuss, there is often humour and laughter as well, as trust, kindness and warmth.
Number Two – Some favourite experiences might centre on experiences of the pleasures of life
  • Enjoying sensations, like soaking in a nice hot bath at the end of the day or the gentle floating sensation of swimming and gliding in the pool
  • Riding a bike fast downhill
  • The sensation of enjoying great tasting food especially when you are hungry.
  • Swimming in the ocean on a hot day
Number Three – Even though I often have a somewhat frustrating and conflictual relationship, with technology I have noticed I enjoy the advances in technology and how it allows me to instantly access people’s ideas, stories and movies.   My vivid imagination likes to draw from my Star Trek watching days, in that I have travelled forward in time, in order to experience these technologies that were merely something on television when I was a kid, and now we are in a future where the technologies actually exist.
  • Dictating this article to my computer
  • Reading with my new kindle, where I have access to thousands of books from all over the world.
  • Using a robot vacuum cleaner to clean the floors, and similar “robots” to mop the floor and clean the pool.  Nothing better than hearing someone else do the work in the background and no guilt because the robot is presumably happy fulfilling its purpose (yes I personify the robots and chat to them too, and get frustrated when they won’t start easily)
  • Riding my e-bike.  E-bikes are so cool, they make anyone who rides them smile because they make hills seem flat and go three times the power of the effort that your legs are putting in.
Number Four – I am not much of a thrill-seeker, or physically coordinated but going on adventures would be some of my happiest and most exciting times. Some of my favourite memories are:
  • of my kids daring me to jump off the jetty at the beach with them, even though my inner voice was saying “no way”, I did it anyway.  And afterwards, there was that realisation that challenging yourself to go outside of what is comfortable for you, makes you feel alive.
  • Similarly, even though my ability to mountain ride plateaued on the green tracks almost straight away, there is a certain pleasure from having built up fitness and bravery to jump small jumps and dodge “the moving trees”.  There is an immense pleasure for me in experiencing an adventure and being able to tell and retell a story in a humorous way, and have others laugh with me.
  • Climbing an actual mountain in Japan (Mount Fuji).  While the climb itself was quite painful, the view and the sense of accomplishment is something that I still enjoy playing over in my mind.

What is making it to your list?

Which would you want to replay in your mind to bring good feelings of happiness?  Are there some that would spur you on to want to repeat them today, or plan for them in the future?

I encourage you to use your ability to actively replay the memories and experiences that help you to relive the happiness and to plan for happiness today and tomorrow.  Notice how the memories themselves have a positive effect on your mind and body, the more you immerse in them. You may find that your planning for “doing them now” is more short term at the moment, given the changing nature of things, however, it is important to keep revisiting your happy list and focussing on what is happy for you now and has a good long term trajectory. Perhaps, share it with a friend, and help each other be accountable for being active in reliving and doing things from your happy list.  Some may be longer-term, though the planning of them can be fun and pleasurable too.

Allow your happy list to grow and develop.

Once you start focussing on the idea, your imagination is likely to remember other happy experiences, and help you build your list.

Choose at least one item per day to play out.

Written by:

Lisa Irving

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