Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

I know we’re only a week into February, but I’ve already read a slew of great books (including on a snow day and a cross-country flight). Here’s what I have been reading:

Love, Lists and Fancy Ships, Sarah Grunder Ruiz
Jo Walker, yacht stewardess, has struggled to keep going since the death of her young nephew. But the surprise arrival of her two teenage nieces for the summer – plus a kind, handsome new neighbor/coworker and his daughter – forces her to get out and knock a few items off her 30-before-30 bucket list. Loved this funny, sweet novel.

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee
We tend to think of joy as an intangible, elusive emotion – but it can be enhanced, even engendered, by physical objects and patterns in the physical world. A fun, informative look at 10 different aesthetics of joy – natural and human-made. Recommended by Anne and others.

Some of It Was Real, Nan Fischer
Sylvie is a psychic on the brink of stardom who isn’t quite sure she believes in her own abilities. Thomas is a journalist who’s determined to expose her as a fraud. As they go on a road trip to delve into Sylvie’s past, they both are forced to examine some serious grief and other emotions, including how they feel about each other. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 22).

The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane, Kate O’Shaughnessy
Maybelle Lane dreams of a singing career – and when she finds out the daddy she’s never met is judging a singing contest, she schemes her way to Nashville, in the company of a no-nonsense neighbor woman and her maybe-friend, the boy next door. A sweet middle-grade story about loneliness and how you choose to build a family.

Just the Two of Us, Jo Wilde
Julie and Michael have been married for nearly 35 years – but their relationship has gone seriously sour. When they’re forced to isolate together in their home in March 2020, they start to wonder if they can find their way back to each other. I wasn’t sure I was ready for a “light” pandemic novel, but this was a lovely exploration of family and the ups and downs of a long marriage. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 12).

Shoutin’ in the Fire, Dante Stewart
I follow Stewart on Twitter and Instagram – he writes powerfully about being Black, Christian and American. This memoir delves deeper into his own experiences and how he has grappled with anti-Blackness in various contexts (including in himself). He’s a force and this is a message we all need.

The Wicked Widow, Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ lush, compelling historical fiction. This novel is the third featuring Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a scrappy redhead who gets caught up with a major bootlegging racket during Prohibition, and her connection to the blue-blooded Schuyler family. Heartbreaking and juicy and so good.

A Place to Hang the Moon, Kate Albus
William always tells his younger siblings that their mum thought they “hung the moon.” But when the children – long since orphaned – are forced to evacuate during World War II, clinging to those memories becomes tougher. A sweet (if often sad) story about family, love and the power of good stories.

Every Living Thing, James Herriot
It’s no secret I love Herriot’s books and the new PBS adaptation based closely on them. I found this later volume at the wonderful Dogtown Books in Gloucester (a happy surprise!) and have been savoring it slowly. Funny and vivid and comforting.

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I know running is good for me physically in a lot of ways: our bodies were made to move, and sweating may help clear toxins out of our systems (as well as improving circulation). I’ve enjoyed building up my endurance and strength by running, too. But I’ve wondered for years about that elusive “runner’s high,” or the feel-good rush from endorphins released by exercise. When I started running, I wondered if I’d ever feel it – though that wasn’t why I kept heading back out to the trail.

Like a lot of things about running, the endorphins don’t usually arrive with high drama: I don’t round the final bend or crest one last hill and get a sudden rush of joy or euphoria. Sometimes, if it’s a particularly tough run, I arrive back home being simply grateful I’ve made it. But I do often feel better than I did when I set out. I feel accomplished, and (usually) satisfied with my efforts. These days, it’s an excellent way to start the day, and when I was mostly running after work, it was a gratifying way to cap off the workday. And – lest we all forget – let Elle Woods remind us that endorphins may help prevent murder. (“Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!”)

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dahlia purple stripe

Happiness is: dahlias in the morning light (courtesy of my beloved florist, of course). And settling in for a morning at Darwin’s, my very favorite place.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

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100happydays collage 2

I’m still participating in the #100happydays project – I’m a little over halfway through. Here, some highlights from the past few weeks:

Creamy jalapeno soup on a chilly night. A gorgeous fleur-de-lis in my (Nutella) hot chocolate. Tulips, at the local florist and in the Public Garden.

Budding trees and forsythia everywhere I look. Lush foliage (and colorful murals) on my trip to Austin. A weekend with my favorite nephew, and another weekend in Vermont with friends.

A delicious al fresco dinner with my husband, on the day of the Boston Marathon. A tempting stack of library books, an adorable (and yummy) Easter bunny cookie, wise words from the Dalai Lama, and brand-new colorful capri pants.

As Serenity noted last week, the happy things are everywhere. I’m grateful to this project for helping me notice them.

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I first heard about the #100happydays challenge on Kate’s blog, and several of my other friends have since taken it up. The idea is to post a photo each day for 100 days in a row – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever – of something that’s making you happy.

A few weeks ago, stuck in a post-vacation funk and disappointed at the still-chilly weather, I decided to join in. Here are some highlights from my first 25 days:

100happydays photo collage

Frozen yogurt (and weather warm enough to eat it); new green shoes; Monday night yoga. Daffodils and blue skies; tiny crocuses peeping at me in Harvard Square. A map of Cambridge in a shop window. My husband (on the far left) performing with his a cappella group. Zucchini quesadillas for dinner. A playful, floppy eight-week-old puppy who belongs to one of our interns. And good books. Always good books.

This is a perfect companion to my one little word for this year – light. (And it’s a much-needed corrective on the days I tend to spiral toward grumpy or morose.)

If you need a bit of extra happy in your life, I invite you to join in!

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happier at home book tea

Happier At Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life, Gretchen Rubin
I love Rubin’s first book and her eponymous blog, The Happiness Project, and enjoyed hearing and meeting her recently at the Booksmith. Her second happiness project examines ways to boost her happiness (and her family’s) at home. Since I’ve read a lot of her work (see above), this book was less surprising than her first one. But I still found it charming, and many of her resolutions (“Go shelf by shelf,” “Abandon a project,” “Now is now,” a la Laura Ingalls Wilder) are practical and applicable.

Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter, David Buchanan
Buchanan examines the history and the present state of biodiversity in the U.S., visiting farms, markets and research centers to learn about forgotten varieties of fruits and vegetables. He argues for preserving a wide variety of produce, rather than always focusing on uniformity and predictability (prized by supermarkets and commercial growers). The details of government regulations drag sometimes, but there’s a lot of fascinating information, even if you’re not a grower or gardener. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 25).

O Pioneers!, Willa Cather
A classic story of European immigrant farmers in the Midwest, particularly Alexandra Bergson and her deep attachment to the land. The plot moved slowly, though I found it interesting enough to keep reading. Some beautiful descriptive sentences, but the characters seemed a bit shadowy. This was the first Cather novel I’ve read, and I was ambivalent; perhaps I’ll try My Antonia next.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club series, Heather Vogel Frederick
I love this fun teen series set in Concord, MA (close to where I live). I reread them in preparation for the sixth book, Wish You Were Eyre (releasing next month). Look for a separate post about these books soon.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Laurie R. King
Mary Russell (of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and Sherlock Holmes pair up again, to investigate a charitable organization helping women in London, and its mysterious leader. Mary is newly possessed of a sizable fortune, and deep into her studies at Oxford; she is more mature, but no less stubborn and brilliant. I love her spirit, especially as she clashes with Holmes. Their interaction is the best thing about this book, which is also well plotted and historically fascinating. (Several of its sequels are waiting on my shelf.)

You Come Too: Favorite Poems for Readers of All Ages, Robert Frost
Frost is the perfect poet for a New England fall, and I’d been hankering for his words. I wanted them simple and unadorned: no annotations, no numbered lines, no Complete Works. This slim edition contains nearly all my favorites (except “Nothing Gold Can Stay”) and many poems I hadn’t read in years. I particularly loved “Acquainted With the Night” and “The Freedom of the Moon.” “After Apple-Picking” suits the season perfectly, and, as ever, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is sheer loveliness.

Emma, Jane Austen
I’ve seen both the Gwyneth Paltrow film and its 1990s update, Clueless, so I was familiar with the plot of Emma, but I’d never read it. (I bought the gorgeous Penguin Threads edition, with embroidered/embossed cover and flaps.) Austen’s minor characters are a delight – Miss Bates and Mr. Woodhouse are particularly entertaining. Emma can be exasperating, but I love watching her gradually come to know herself, and as ever, Austen’s wit and insight into the human soul are amusing, incisive and brilliant.

The City of Poetry, Gregory Orr
I heard Orr read this summer, and found this slim chapbook at the tiny Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Cambridge. He imagines poetry as a city, inhabited by both joy and deep grief, and peopled by poets both famous and unknown. His poems are brief, lucid and often stunning, and this extended metaphor reminded me of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Lovely.

What are you reading lately?

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