‘And then one student said that happiness is what happens when you go to bed on the hottest night of the summer, a night so hot you can’t even wear a t-shirt and you sleep on top of the sheets instead of under them, although try to sleep is probably more accurate. And then at some point late, late, late at night, say just a bit before dawn, the heat finally breaks and the night turns into cool and when you briefly wake up, you notice that you’re almost chilly, and in your groggy, half-consciousness, you reach over and pull the sheet around you and just that flimsy sheet makes it warm enough and you drift back off into a deep sleep. And it’s that reaching, that gesture, that reflex we have to pull what’s warm – whether it’s something or someone – toward us, that feeling we get when we do that, that feeling of being safe in the world and ready for sleep, that’s happiness.’ – Paul Schmidtberger.
What makes you happy? What makes anyone happy? I can state the obvious – our family, our friends, spending time with the people in our life that we love. There is certainly nothing that makes me feel happier, or that buoys me up more.
But there are other, smaller, seemingly far more insignificant things that bring happiness to my life. Much more specific, personal things. The small things, that don’t seem important until they’re gone and then you realise they are actually really intrinsic to your well-being. Not necessarily material things either – just feelings that come on and make you smile, almost without noticing.
Like, the little bubbles that pop at the foamy surface of a well-made flat white whilst I stir in the sugar. Similarly, the temperature of the cup in my hand as I pick it up if the coffee has been made properly – not scalding, but just comfortably warm.
Or the reflections of city lights on a slick wet pavement or in otherwise murky puddles after the rain has gone.
The sound of complete silence, save the whistle of a soft breeze through the tall grasses, a sheep bleating in the distance and my own thoughts running through my head.
The sweet smell of grass cut for hay and laid out to dry in the sun. The smell of scorching meat on the BBQ. That waft of garlic on a warm summers night as I pass a house where they’re already cooking dinner. A spritz of my favourite perfume to start my day, rediscovered somewhat randomly at Cork Airport after years without it. That earthy scent, known as petrichor, that comes after rain falls on dry soil and breaks a spell of hot weather. Bread in the toaster, homely and comforting. Freshly cleaned laundry – especially the bedsheets as I slide between them at the end of a long day. The smell of a hot water bottle just after the boiling water has been poured in on a freezing winter’s night.
That feeling when a plan comes together. Or a surprise is pulled off successfully.
The moment when the plane touches down in a brand new country and there’s a mixture of excitement, apprehension and relief that I’ve arrived and a new adventure is about to unfold.
Sunset. Red, orange, pink, gold, darkening to purple and finally deep blue. The moment the sun sinks below the horizon and the sky streaks, with candyfloss clouds. I will never see too many sunsets.
Rainbows. Waterfalls. A fantastic view – across a city, across a landscape, from a skyscraper, from a mountain.
The rejuvenating energy that comes after a walk beside the sea. Salt spray, the relentless surge of water, waves clawing uselessly for a hold on the rocks, the sound of pebble on pebble as the water recedes. The split second of blissful quiet, a pause, an intake of breath, before the next breaker crashes down. If you listen hard enough, it’s always there.
Daffodils bobbing and swaying merrily in the wind, their yellow flowers cheery and unassuming.
When my alarm goes off and I realise slowly, wonderfully, in my heavy, sleep-addled mind, that it’s actually the weekend and I don’t need to get up and I hit the ‘off’ button the alarm and turn back over, cocooned beneath my duvet, to doze off again.
The moment when a new song dips, a quivering note, a mellow voice. I close my eyes and let the music kick in. It washes over me, I listen to the lyrics and they become something to me – a new meaning, a new memory.
5pm. Mid February. I glance up and see that it’s still daylight outside. Winter is coming to an end.
When the plane banks low over London and I feel a bubble welling up inside me as I see the Shard reaching up to greet me back to the UK. I know I’m almost home.
Sunshine dancing through the curls of steam that rise up from a cup of tea on a lazy Sunday morning. There are no plans, the day is mine to do with what I want.
The blush of pink blossom softening London’s concrete and brick edges and the warmth of sunshine on my skin as I walk home. A perfect Spring day.
All of these tiny, apparently insignificant day-to-day things bring me happiness. There are many other things as well, too numerous to mention. And of course, that reaching, that gesture, that reflex we have to pull what’s warm – whether it’s something or someone – toward us, that feeling we get when we do that, that feeling of being safe in the world and ready for sleep – that’s happiness.