My Happiness List

My Happiness List

As I mentioned last time, the process of thinking about and writing down a list of things that makes me happy and keeping the list where I can read it regularly has been quite enlightening. I know I said it before, but who knew that thinking about what makes you happy would actually make you happier? It’s a sweet trick. I try to read my list every day, really taking a second to remember what each one means to me (it only takes a minute and it’s well worth it). Going through them gives me a little rush of joy every time.

Since the list I shared with you last week is just the summary I use to trigger my thoughts for each point, I felt inclined to share the full idea behind each one. It’s more of a note-to-self summary than a description, per se, but if you’re in the process of making a list for yourself maybe it’ll give you more ideas. I read quite a few lists from other people while making mine and it helped guide some of my own points.

In writing this all down, I particularly liked how they tend to cross-pollinate. For example, paying close attention to people helps me nurture my relationships, while being Noelle helps me have more fun. Ditching my ego makes it easier to not keep score, and being active helps me look my best. It’s lovely to see them build on each other like that.

So without further ado, here is my expanded happiness list!

Be Noelle

comparing yourself cartoonI tend to think that other people have life figured out and are living it better/more interestingly than I am. Maybe some have and some are, but that doesn’t mean I’m not. Happiness, fun, joy, being alive, these are not zero sum games. Just because other people are rocking it (or they appear to be, from my vantage point), doesn’t mean there isn’t any awesomeness left for me to experience. Stop comparing yourself and just be who you are.

Have fun

Singing loudly with all the windows open. Dancing my ass off to Taylor Swift in my living room. Being around people who make me properly belly laugh and cry a little. Doing cartwheels and hand stands whenever I feel compelled. These things always put me in a good mood. I want to go out of my way to have fun more often and find fun in the things I’m already doing.

Nurture your relationships

I miss my friends and family at home. A lot. It is incredibly important to me that I don’t let my most valuable friendships fade away. I’ve also struggled to make friends here and I want to keep the friendships I do have growing. The only way to do that is to tend to all of my relationships: check in frequently (not just for big events but about mundane, boring, actually-living-life stuff), send postcards, make calls or Skype dates, reply quickly to their correspondence, give them a thoughtful little gift, let them know I’m are thinking about them often. They matter immensely to me. I want to make sure to they know it.

Pay attention

Stopping for a minute to savor small stuff always makes me happy – like looking at bugs on flowers, tuning in to sounds around me I normally ignore or taking an extra long time to explore the flavor in one bite of food. Also, listening intently to other people and what they are saying, asking questions and getting curious about them (as opposed to using their words as a jumping off point for my own) is a good way to nurture my relationships while also ditching my ego.

Ditch the ego

I want to feel right and justified and clever (hoping I’m not alone here), but I also want other people to know I am these things. I go to great lengths sometimes to get people to think I’m awesome. What can I say: I like gold stars. But the problem isn’t about enjoying stars – it’s about my method of self-appraisal. I need to get ok with seeing my worth through my own eyes and not through others; to be proud of myself and content with who I am without other people’s approval.

Don’t keep score

I like to make sure that I am contributing and helping out as much as everyone else. It comes from a good place, but sometimes in striving to make sure that I do things equally (aka exactly as much as other people), I find myself taking note of their contributions. Sometimes I find myself getting irritated that they aren’t doing their fair share. Then I get annoyed and irritable and grumpy and snarky and it’s no good for anyone. Keeping score is detrimental to any relationship (friends, family or romantic; my dad’s first relationship advice to me was “don’t build a case against your partner”). If you constantly feel you are doing all the work and compare it to what they are doing, it can’t lead to anything good. Don’t keep score. Do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. It’ll all wash out in the end anyway, and along the way you won’t be stressed about any perceived inequality.

Make space

It’s possible to be tidy and organised and still not have room to move. Creating actual space is very refreshing. Having room to move physically gives you room to breathe mentally. So don’t cover every space on your counter with stuff. Don’t ram every shelf full. Don’t fill your drawers several layers deep. Leave some space. Feel your soul lighten.

Having space vs. being organised

Keep things fresh

Out with the old: old thoughts, old habits, old beliefs, old stuff. Get rid of it. Make way for freshness to come into your life. Get rid of clothes that are worn out. Get rid of habits that aren’t serving you. Get rid of food that’s rotting in the fridge. Try something new at your favorite restaurant. Go somewhere in your town that you’ve never been before. Look for something new on your commute to work. Seek out new experiences. Keep things fresh.

Be physically active

It is what it says. Move your body around, preferably in a way that makes you sweat (bonus: it’s not hard in the middle east). I spend a LOT of time in my house and a LOT of that is in front of a computer. But I’m happier when I’m regularly active. Using a standing desk with a wobble board is great. Taking breaks to do a few squats or crunches is great. Doing yoga, pole dance, diving and weekly walking groups is awesome. The more I do, the better I feel.

Celebrate your victories

For as much as I like getting gold stars, I’m not good at being proud of myself for earning them. I’ve done some big stuff (finishing a bachelor’s degree, finishing a master’s degree, walking every street in London, moving internationally twice), but once I’ve done it I tell myself, “Well you’re just Noelle, and if Noelle can do it then anyone can, so it’s not that amazing really, is it? How about you go do something actually worthy of praise and get back to me then.” I need to be willing to look at my accomplishments – big and small – as deserving of recognition. I need to keep a log for myself of the things I have achieved so I can look back and see that I am actually doing some pretty cool stuff.

Keep your perspective

I’ll let Mr. Sagan handle this one:

Pale blue dot

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark….There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known. – Carl Sagan

Look your best

Look good, feel good – feel good, look good. It’s a positive feedback loop. I have never been fashionable or cared much about looking amazing, but when I do put in the effort to look nice it changes so much. I feel more confident, more sexy, more powerful, more creative, more fun, more hip, more lively, more me. I love that feeling and I want more of it. I want to wear clothes that make me feel that way, try fun new hairstyles, wear funky jewelry, maybe even put on makeup occasionally. It’s ok to look great and feel awesome even when I am sitting at home staring at a laptop.

Use your hands

When I am tense or anxious or bored, the simplest way for me to distract myself is to do something purposeful with my hands. Doodle, make a toy for my cat, build a new desk – any physical job is wonderful because I can’t think about the problem I’m facing and make something at the same time. When I’m not trying to distract myself, building/making things makes me happy because it allows me to be creative, to play, to have fun and to interact with the world around me in a different way.


My eyes burn sometimes from sitting in front of too many screens. When I make the effort to purposefully unplug I notice a difference in my mood immediately. Suddenly I am excited about the real-world things I can do: use my hands to build things, be physically active, clean out my cupboards to make space, go outside and pay attention to the world around me, nurture my relationships by making something for a friend, have fun, combat cynicism by talking to a stranger, and not feed my ego with Facebook likes and Instagram comments. Unplugging allows me to do so many things on this happiness list it makes me wonder if I should just unplug permanently. Alas, that is not the world we live in any more. So I will have to create unplugged time and be disciplined about it. My happiness depends on it.

Combat cynicism

Combating the belief that humans are selfish, mean, unkind, violent or angry is a difficult task when we are given so much evidence in support of it. But, argues Maria Popova (one of my favorite humans):

“[Cynicism] is inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive…[You must] fight it in yourself, for this ungainly beast lays dormant in each of us, and counter it in those you love and engage with, by modeling its opposite… There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment.”

Go outside

And lastly, not many things are more invigorating than the smell of fresh dirt, the sound of leaves in the breeze, the sound of rocks under your feet or the cold rush you get when you jump into a fresh mountain pool. Go outside as much as you can. Be in nature. Be with nature. This is life. Soak it up.

And that’s my list! I’d love to hear what is on yours 🙂


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