Twenty things that make me happy

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve spent much of my adult life striving, mostly professionally, often socially. I left my native Canada, and a thriving career and dear friends, to follow a man I married, (who walked out after two years of marriage). I’ve survived three recessions since 1989 and four orthopedic surgeries since 2000.

Would I ever have a calmer, steadier life?

Recently, I’ve felt…happy.


Dare I even write those words? I feel like I’m tempting fate.

But things have been lovely of late.

I know one reason — the endless crisis/problem-solving/emotional dramas/fear and pain of the past few years are gone. My left hip, which caused me 2.5 years of 24/7 pain, was replaced 18 months ago. My mother, whose crises seemed endless, is now in a nursing home. Work, finally, seems to be much more solid than the terrifying, scraping pennies-from-the-sofa-cushions dips of 2008-9.

Here are some of the things that make me happy:

— Our town’s reservoir, whose landmarks are a cormorant who stands very still and spreads his wings in the sunshine, white swans, duck bums in the air, Queen Ann’s lace and orange lilies by the roadside. Best of all — turtles! There are about a dozen of them, all black and round, who line up along some rubber tubing at the water’s edge.

Queen Ann s Lace 02
Queen Ann s Lace 02 (Photo credit: Macomb Paynes)

— The flowers on our balcony, orange and purple and white and yellow, adding beauty to every day.

— My husband’s kisses.

— My dance classes, jazz and modern. It’s such a delicious relief to leave words and speech behind, to sway and bend and spin and twist with others. To stretch, still touching my palms flat to the floor. I love using a corporeal vocabulary I’ve known for decades: chassees, plies, tendues, battements, ronds de jambes.

— A surprise check at the exact moment I need it.

— An unexpected assignment, two of which showed up this week.

— A full refund, many years later, for a spendy skirt I bought at Nordstrom.

— The pool at our apartment building. On these 95+ degree days, it is such a blessing to plunge in and cool off.

— Freshly-baked banana bread, hot from the oven, that I made.


— A full pot of tea, poured from a white china teapot.

— A big bunch of white flowers.


— Fresh corn.

— Our new tent, which I can put up, alone, within minutes.

— Outdoors antiques fairs and flea markets, where I always find something fantastic — an Edwardian necklace, a Moroccan lantern or some vintage crochet edging.


Mother of pearl, metal, glass beads and ebony, $55. Score!

— Throwing a party. Tomorrow we’re having about two dozen friends over to celebrate Malled’s publication in China.

— Making new friends.

Flo and Friend 1908
Flo and Friend 1908 (Photo credit: dottygirl)

— Discovering the most unlikely connections with a new friend, like the woman my age with whom I went for lunch to talk about work. She had been a professional ballerina, and danced in productions with Nureyev. I had performed at Lincoln Center in Sleeping Beauty with him in the lead. The odds?!

Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center (Photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

— An hour+ long phone chat with a friend who’s known me for decades.

— Helping younger journalists who ask me for advice.

— Having our suburban NY street thick with bushes full of ripe raspberries.

How about you?

What makes you happy these days?

54 thoughts on “Twenty things that make me happy

  1. Nemesis

    Banana bread!!!

    I have a convection oven… and an idea…

    José and I return from a pre-dawn, ManlyMorning MakingArt… to the aroma of fresh…

    PS – to answer your question, Ms. Malled – the UPS shipment from Wisconsin, arriving Monday next, with the Italian DooDads I needs must install to resurrect the temporarily ‘grounded’ La Bestia Cremisi.

    1. I agree.

      I know that some people make/keep gratitude lists. While I am grateful, there is an element of spontaneous joy to seeing the turtles or the cormorant that just makes me smile.

    1. Nemesis

      It has something to do with, “Waiting for the “LightToGetRight”. I’m practically ashamed that I earned almost as much lounging about with cocktails doing that as I did SweatingProfusely & MakingTheLight.

      José knows.

      PS – There’s nothing faulty with your concentration, SuperTrooper… You wrote, “Malled”. Remember? 😉

  2. I enjoy painting for the same reason you enjoy dance — it’s a wonderful opportunity to leave words behind for just a little while. I’m not a good painter. I’ve never had any training, but it’s not about being good. I like going to a wordless place.

    Loved your list. It’s a great reminder to be thankful for the small things. (How I would love to have a pool on days like this!)

  3. Caitlin- What a lovely post. My two favorites on your list? “– My husband’s kisses; – Helping younger journalists who ask me for advice.” Anyone who can appreciate those two things deserves to be very happy.

    For me it is simplicity itself, sitting out on our deck after work, the sun setting behind us, looking at the forest of trees and birds. The whole world is right. Add a glass of wine, maybe some cheese nibbles, and I could stay there contentedly watching the moon rise.

    Thanks for giving us pause to think and be happy.

  4. You have many beautiful things in this picture of happiness. I laugh out loud at the rufous hummingbirds at the feeder or when the horses down the street run around in the rain, kicking up their feet. I am happy when I have a good laugh with friends, hear from an old friend half the country away and when I make my husband laugh. I am very happy when I can work in my studio and actually make progress. I am always happy to come home after a trip and realize how good we have it.

    1. LOVE the horse image. I get really happy being around horses and most dogs; I’d like to have one of each.

      So true about coming home…I am very lucky to have a place, a small one, that I am always glad to open the door into.

  5. Jessica Slavin

    Well, having made your acquaintance through blogging these past few months, for one thing! That was a lovely post, Caitlin. And I think I am going to add this activity to my spiritual practice. It is a lovely idea, slightly different from gratitude, but still finding delights that I am grateful for.

  6. Enjoying a nice warm cuddle with Mike. Sleeping in (not something that happens very often). A hot pizza (with cheese in the crust). Exercising (which has me walking) at the near by lake…and photos (always!!). If I can take a photo, I’m a happy gal.

      1. I can imagine Mikes: “the very same cuddle, with obligatory boob grab”, a hot meat pie, an aussie rules match for his fav team to win and some beer…haha. I’ll have to ask him when he gets home tomorrow!

      2. The OBG is the same at our house! It’s a guy thing. 🙂

        And Jose is already (it’s 7:11 a.m. on bloody Saturday morning) watching another golf tournament on TV, with coffee…

        Hey, are you still coming to NY this fall?

      3. I’m not too sure about NY in the fall now, I’m heavily debating it…I only just started a new job. I’ll wait another month before I decide…I’m torn!

  7. This is a lovely post. When things were very difficult in my life last year (my mother was seriously ill and nearly died, my older siblings weren’t being supportive, and I was having to arrange for a lengthy leave of absence from my studies in order to care for my mother), I used to make a daily list of things I was thankful for. It helped because when it seemed as though everything else was going wrong in my life, I could still find some kind of happiness in amid the stresses.

    Looking back on the experience now, although it was a terrible time, in some ways I am grateful that it happened. Does that sound odd? It gave me more life experience than many people of my age (20) have and made me stronger. Now, I feel like I can cope with almost anything. And that is something which makes me happy.

    1. Thanks for weighing in…and big fierce hugs to you for being brave, stepping up and doing what needed to be done even when others bailed out. I really admire your spirit and fortitude…having been forced into that role as well for my mother at that age. It’s overwhelming!

      I hope you’ll blog about it, because you have completely gotten the value of being tested, tried and true…I had the worst month of my life, ever, when I was 19 and about to turn 20. I really did not think I could survive all the shit that flew around in that short time. But I did. And ever since then, when things get nuts, I know “Nope. I got through that. Get on with it.”

      Knowing that you have resourcefulness and strength is one of the greatest gifts life could have given you — or you have given to yourself. Yay!!

      1. Thank you for your kind words. You’re right, it is overwhelming. I was so thankful when 2012 ended. It was such a crappy year!

        I did write a blog post about saying goodbye to my mom before she had major surgery ( The post was Freshly Pressed and I think you commented on it. But so far, I haven’t written anything else. I think my feelings on many aspects of the whole experience are still fairly raw and I feel quite a lot of resentment towards my siblings. As my family occasionally reads my blog, I have to tread carefully!

  8. Probably sounds stupid and a little ‘hippy-dippy’, but being nice to ME! Learning to worry less about making others happy (which was often done at the sake of my own happiness) has lifted a weight from my shoulders.

  9. Beautiful necklace and what a deal! For me, the furloughs of federal workers have been a small blessing. They have given me extended weekends that allow me to visit my long distance boyfriend and out-of-town friends. Sure, I could focus on the 20% cut in pay, but the additional time is something that can never be replaced and I am fully using it to my advantage. Great post, Caitlin!

    1. Thanks! That necklace was crazy cheap — could easily have been 3x the price, I think.

      Nice re-frame of an annoyance…and good for you to enjoy it for what it is. Free time to reconnect with people you love.

  10. Beautiful post. Hmm, things that me happy…connecting with friends, listening to my kids interact with each other, the flowers on my terrace, spotting different birds in Central Park, the beach, that first cup of espresso in the morning, a slice of excellent pizza, getting lost in a perfect song. 🙂

  11. First off, let me say that is a beautiful necklace, and a great find at the flea market.

    Things that make me happy:

    ~ Listening to birds outside my windows.

    ~ Seeing something photo-worthy AND having my camera with me and the time to stop and take numerous shots.

    ~ Hearing music that makes my soul sing and my body want to move.

    ~ Having a clean and tidy house.

    ~ Being in water, near water, in a boat on water, looking at a body of water.

    Oh, so many other things that make me happy. I’ll stop here for now.

    1. Thanks!

      Great list…I so agree with being near or on a body of water. Our apartment faces the Hudson River and I now would find it disorienting to live somewhere without water nearby to relate to.

  12. One of my favorite songs : “my favorite things” from the sound of music 🙂
    There is also a french book “le sel de la vie” from Françoise Héritier. She speak about all these little things which give a flavor to the life. First, that’s great to realize (have awareness) of them, and then, like you did, write them 😉

  13. Nice list! I am enormously impressed by your balletic past and recall an episode from my early days of teaching when I was trying to explain a reference to ‘second’ position in a novel I was doing with the class. Fairly recently graduated from acting school, I didn’t hesitate to demonstrate the pose for the bemused and scathing high schoolers in a small Irish town. How they laughed! Hysterical and disgusted all at once, ‘Where’, they wondered, ‘did this cream puff come from!’

    ‘I’m a classically trained actor, how very dare you!’ I thought.

    One of my twenty would have to be the ability to laugh at myself. I’d be screwed otherwise.

    1. Thanks!

      I plan to do a blog post about my week at Lincoln Centre as it was NUTS — I am NOT a dancer in any true sense of the word, but was an extra, whom they hire for every performance to fill out the stage.

      I do second position every week in dance class — occasionally fourth. Fifth? Forget it!

      I admire your spirit — and the hell with your students. 🙂

  14. Love this post and your list! Lately, I’ve been really enjoying taking hikes with the pup. They’re like little adventures. I love seeing her run free, and it’s good exercise for both of us. I’ve also delved into an old script of mine recently, and am actually really enjoying rewriting it. I’ll be truly happy when I leave my job, but in the meantime I can cautiously (dare I?) say, “no complaints.”

  15. Pingback: The One with the Hawaiian Bungalow | Jackie Cangro

  16. I love your list. Gratitude for what one has is the foundation for happiness. The top of my happiness list is simple: my daughter, Jane – “the charming gardener who makes my soul blossom” (to paraphrase Proust), my work, and my good health.

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