Friday, August 22, 2014


Not so long ago, I had a friend turn to me admiringly and say, "You're so good at doing all the self-care stuff. The gratitude practice, getting regular exercise, going to therapy, doing stuff like the 100 Happy Days challenge." It took me by surprise, because I do "the self-care stuff" because if I don't devote large amount of time to actively trying to feel good, I often devolve into feeling, well, terrible.

In an effort to continue carving out these moments of feeling good, I recently did the #100happydays challenge on Instagram. The premise is pretty straightforward: using whatever social media platform you feel happiest on, take a photo/craft a tweet devoted to a moment of joy. Do that every day for 100 straight days. Don't let excuses like "I don't have time" whinge their way into your protective #100happydays cocoon. Feel your life become more joyful. Blah blah blah: transform!

I did mine on Instagram, where there are currently nearly nineteen million photos tagged with the #100happydays hashtag. (Tellingly, there are about 44,000 photos tagged #day97, which might tell you something about the average Happy Days-er's ability to follow through.) I took pictures of acorns, of friends, of kombucha projects, of family members, of my fiance, of food, of flowers, of a rainbow, of cats, of graffiti, of a baseball game, and plenty of other things. Each picture is a moment in time, and many of them make me smile as I scroll back through them. I had forgotten about some of them: honey balls with a friend, for example, or a lovely, lounge-y park afternoon with M devoted solely to reading magazines and talking about our honeymoon.

Some are clear gimmes: the picture of a fig in front of a Beastie Boys poster, for example, is nothing more than just two things I like. I'm not capturing a moment of joy; I'm getting in my daily shot. The shot of me cuddling with a friend's baby isn't quite happy, per se; it's a bit bittersweet and guards my complicated feelings about babies and motherhood. I probably posted more shots of my emerging kombucha project than anyone cared about, and there's a conspicuously lack of photos taken at my office.

About halfway through the hundred days, I realized that usually, I wasn't exactly capturing a moment of happiness. I paying attention to these moments solely so I could take a picture of them. They were still happy, sure (I mean, who doesn't like sitting in a park with a can of Coke Zero and a fresh issue of Entertainment Weekly?), but I was seeking them not for their joyfulness, but for their posterity. And that's sort of...not the point. The pictures became the point, not the feeling they were trying to capture.

Here's the thing: I'm a person with flaws. I'm quick to anger and I'm slow to forgive. I insist on being right, even to the detriment of being kind. I live with many kinds of fear and anxiety, and it damages my ability to get out of my own head. I can be, and have always been (my mother can attest to this) willful.

But I'm also a person who tries to be better. I'm trying getting to know myself, and what makes me feel great. When I feel great, more pieces of the puzzle seem to fit. Unlike a lot of people, I've worked hard at knowing, naming, and working with my emotions. I am honest without being cruel. I live for creativity: writing, cooking, making. I try to make space in my life for things that sustain me: smart work, physical exercise, friends and family. And while the idea of #100happydays was intriguing, the actual practice left me a little cold. A friend of mine, who often bucks convention and grins doing it, started tagging her photos #happyeveryday. When I asked her why, she shrugged. "Why stop at a hundred days?" she replied.

I guess this is why the #100happydays challenge was a little disappointing. I like gratitude logs  - for a while, I had a practice of writing down the five best things that had happened to me that day, and M and I like to play an out-loud version of this game in bed before we go to sleep. But those are sweet memories that I can bring up at the end of the day: they're sparks of love and life that become brighter when we look at them. They're not Christmas lights I hang just to liven up the room.

Image via Instagram, duh.