How to Get a Little Happier

For Christmas, I gave my niece a book called The Blessings Jar.

The book tells the story of a little girl, Punky Grace, who wakes up one morning in a grumpy mood. She was truly a cranky pants—until her grandmother suggested they make a blessings jar. They would start with a big, empty canning jar, go on some adventures, and every time they came across something that reminded her of some blessings she had in her life, she would put a memento in the jar to help her remember.

They added a flower from the garden, her ballet slipper after she did some twirling, and a shell from a trip to the beach. They stopped to have ice cream with her grandpa—and she put a napkin from the ice cream stand in the jar.

When I read to my niece that Punky Grace’s favorite ice cream was bubble gum, I said, “Oh my! That was Menga’s favorite ice cream!”

My mother used to tell stories of having ice cream from the shop on the corner in downtown Sonoma, California. She would always get bubble gum ice cream—vanilla with colored gumballs inside.

My niece, who is almost six, never knew Menga personally—but she has learned about her from stories we tell. She actually looks a lot like my mother did when she was her age. My niece wears a pink leotard sometimes and twirls around in circles—and my mother once had a pair of red pointe shoes.

Earlier that day, one of those times when my niece was spinning in circles, she said, “I’m so beautiful I can see the birds!”

I stopped what I was doing, and said, “What?”

She laughed, and said, “I can see right inside the bird’s nest!”

That’s what I thought she had said—it didn’t make any sense. We were inside. We weren’t anywhere near a window or near birds. 

But her comment reminded me of a book I am reading, 10% Happier, by Dan Harris. Harris, an ABC news correspondent who was struggling with cocaine drug addiction and anxiety, recounts his efforts to practice meditation to get his life in order. He shares the pain of battling it every step of the way, mostly being irritated by meditation teachers and the overall experience.

But finally, on day five at his first silent retreat, he was sitting outside on his dormitory balcony, meditating, when something finally “clicked.” He described it as finally finding a radio frequency he had been trying to tune into. He was suddenly completely present in the moment, in choice-less awareness, opening up with ease and clarity to everything that was there. After sitting with this for some time, he opened his eyes. And there was a hummingbird, hovering right in front of him.

Dan was so beautiful in that moment that he could see the birds too.

I’d put moments like that in my blessings jar. Moments when that hummingbird, or that turtle, or swan shows up when you need it most. I’d put in a picture of my son D. A piece of my yoga mat. A cotton ball, to remind me of days when the clouds are indescribable. Some paper, and a pen. A tennis ball from the Y. A sand dollar from Stinson Beach. A photo of my mom and dad.

What would you put in yours?