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The Happy List

Image source: Rachel Garlinghouse
Image source: Rachel Garlinghouse

Goals, checklists, vision boards, and even Pinterest: these things can be inspirational and aspirational, but rarely, I have found, do they result in accomplishing much of anything.

That being said, there was one particular checklist that I found truly made a difference in my life.

A year or so ago, a woman came to my adoption support group to talk about the importance of self-care, and she offered a simple and rather ingenious idea: create a list of the top three to five things we enjoy, things that make us feel happy.

She handed out colored cardstock and pretty markers and told us to make our lists. She told us to make sure these things were feasible and free to low-cost. I found that it wasn’t that difficult to list the things I needed, the things I enjoyed.

As a stay-at-home mom of three young kids and a writer, self-care too easily falls by the wayside. The immediate needs of my little ones tend to become the top priority: a snack, a clean shirt, a hug. With three children, my day is an endless cycle of giving, of yielding, of doing. Motherhood is challengingly beautiful, and it is exhausting.

As I wrote out my list, I took a peek at the women surrounding my dining room table. Each woman was writing furiously. We all knew what we needed to feel rejuvenated, peaceful, soothed. What we needed to feel human. To remember that we mattered, we deserved a sliver of something ourselves. There was no question we knew what we wanted and needed, we just desired someone to remind us that it was OK to want and need.

“There was no question we knew what we wanted and needed, we just desired someone to remind us that it was OK to want and need.”
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My list was rather simple. I needed a little bit of time in the sunshine every day; I wanted a small bit of time to exercise, even if it was only 15 minutes on the elliptical or lifting weights; And I’d enjoy a cup or two of my favorite tea.

The speaker had us share one thing on our lists, and we discussed why these things mattered. Then the speaker told us to post our lists somewhere visible: the front of the refrigerator, on our dashboards, on the bathroom mirror, etc. We should aim, she said, to do at least one thing on the list every day.

I still have my hot pink cardstock list on the side of my fridge, and let me tell you, the reminder has worked. When I’m feeling stressed, tired, frustrated, or restless, one glance at the list reminds me to pause and do just one thing.

Isn’t that all we really need? Just one thing. A sip of our favorite tea, a hug from a spouse, a quick walk around the block? These moments can reset our day, renew our mindset, and invigorate our hearts. These things can give us the space we need to clear our minds or think through a difficult situation. Most of all, these happiness reminders can tell us that what we want and need matters, is worthy of attention.

Instead of setting yourself up for failure by joining the resolve-to-do-the-impossible bandwagon, make your list, without checking it twice, and post it. You won’t regret treating yourself.

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