The Real Secrets to Happiness

March 29, 2019

“It takes a long time to develop the behavior and habits of mind that contribute to our problems. It takes an equally long time to establish the new habits that bring happiness. There is no getting around these essential ingredients: determination, effort, and time. These are the real secrets to happiness.”
—The Art of Happiness, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D


21 Amazing Things I Take for Granted

March 25, 2019

Yesterday’s Action for Happiness Mindful March calendar prompt was “Make a list of amazing things you take for granted.”

So I did.

Here’s a portion of it, in no particular order:

  1. Libraries
  2. Toilets (our main one was briefly out of commission over the weekend)
  3. Blue skies with puffy clouds
  4. Two-day shipping
  5. Computers
  6. My family
  7. My close friends
  8. My pets, Tank, Prudy, and Luna
  9. Electricity (I don’t take it for granted as much since Hurricane Irma blew through)
  10. Knowing where my next meal is coming from
  11. Not having to grow/butcher my next meal
  12. Smart phones (even with their drawbacks, they’re pretty amazing and useful)
  13. Waking up each morning (think about it!)
  14. Coffee pots on timers
  15. The washing machine (and dryer)
  16. Refrigeration
  17. Ibuprofen
  18. The Internet
  19. Growing things—plants, trees, flowers
  20. Supermarkets
  21. Delivery pizza

We live in a challenging, chaotic, stressful age, but we are also surrounded by amazing things our ancestors couldn’t imagine. While it’s in our natures to want—to be always searching for the next Shiny Thing—now and then, we should stop to appreciate all the amazing-ness we already have access to.

It’s easy just to rattle off a list like this, but if you make one yourself, I encourage you to spend a few moments thinking about each item, how it enriches your life, how many people were and are involved in getting it to you, and so on. For most of us, life is pretty amazing!

What amazing things do you take for granted?

Link love

Mindful Link Love

March 22, 2019

I’m not the only one with mindfulness in mind (hee) right now. The word “mindful” seems to be a popular addition to any topic: mindful eating, mindful parenting, mindful decluttering, etc. There’s a lovely print magazine simply called Mindful (see below, no affiliation). And when I type the word into Google, I get 82,500,000 results. Here are just a few mindfulness-related links, plus a few more links just for fun:

Mindful magazine’s introduction to mindfulness

Another good introduction to mindfulness, “What Is Mindfulness? (And What Does It Mean to You?)”

One way to become a calmer person: by “observing and allowing” uncomfortable emotional experiences as matter-of-factly as possible.

This guided journal looks intriguing. 

“How to Be Mindful While Reading” was a good reminder for me not to simply hurry through my books. 

I don't think I've ever linked to Susan Branch’s blog in Link Love before. I got a kick out of her recent post, “Stress Make You Fat? Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?” In her own charming way, she makes the case for indulging in simple pleasures as often as possible.

I’ve finally started listening to podcasts now and then. I listened to my first What Should I Read Next? podcast, and ended up adding NINE books to my TBR list. Yikes. Better not do that again in a hurry. 

Laura Vanderkam’s just started a new podcast, Before Breakfast, every weekday morning. Each episode is less than 10 minutes long, and offers a time management strategy to help you make the most of your time at work and at home.

I love a cappella music, and recently discovered The Swingles. Have a listen here:

or here:

Happy Friday!


Catching Happiness Inspiration—Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance

March 18, 2019

In 1995, Sarah Ban Breathnach published Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. I don’t remember how I heard about it, or even if I bought my copy soon after it was published, but I expect I did. Even then, I was attracted to its concepts, and I loved the daybook format, where I could read little bits of inspiration in bite-sized pieces. In 1995, I was a young mother, my son less than a year old, and that first year was tough for many reasons. I can easily see myself turning to a book like this for encouragement.

Her message of appreciating the small and simple joys of life may not seem unusual to you now, but in the 1990s it was almost revolutionary. As Jesse Kornbluth wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post, “In today’s radically different America, we hear this message all the time. Live small. Cook slow. Back then, it was a fire bell in the night—and the start of a new media phenomenon.”

A little about Sarah Ban Breathnach and Simple Abundance:

  • Her name is pronounced “Bon Brannock.”
  • Simple Abundance has sold over five million copies in the US and topped the New York Times Bestsellers list for two years.
  • Simple Abundance is responsible for introducing two concepts—the “Gratitude Journal” and the term “authentic self" into the American conversation.
  • She’s the author of 13 books. In addition to Simple Abundance, she wrote Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self, Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity, and she created The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude
  • Ban Breathnach has weathered some serious ups and downs, including failed marriages, an accident that left her bedridden, and losing all the money she made from Simple Abundance

My copy of Simple Abundance boasts faded yellow highlighting on many pages. Here are a few of the highlighted passages:

“Today I want you to become aware that you already possess all the inner wisdom, strength, and creativity needed to make your dreams come true…. When we can’t access our inner resources, we come to the flawed conclusion that happiness and fulfillment come only from external events.” 
(“Simple Abundance: The Inner Journey,” January 3)

“What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love.”
(“How Happy Are You Right Now?” January 7)

“But only we can make sure we will be fulfilled. If we feel empty, no amount of water can fill our well. It has to come from within, from the underground springs and streams.” 
(“Job, Career, or Calling?” September 5)

I had forgotten how many of the suggestions put forth in Simple Abundance I’ve experimented with. For example, I have an “Illustrated Discovery Journal” (January 28), take the occasional “Creative Excursion” (February 1), and have, at times, possessed a “Comfort Drawer” (March 7).

I suspect her influence lurked deep in my heart when I created Catching Happiness with its focus on simple pleasures and everyday adventures. It’s also my secret ambition to write a book similar in format to Simple Abundance—a daybook to which readers could turn for a little inspiration and encouragement. Perhaps it’s time to start writing, and to start mining Catching Happiness for material to be included.

I’ll reread parts of Simple Abundance this year for inspiration. I think Sarah Ban Breathnach would approve.

Have you ever read Simple Abundance, or any of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s work? What did you think? Is there another daybook or author you’ve found inspirational or encouraging?


Field Trip Friday—Ridiculously Photogenic French Villages Part 1

March 15, 2019

Saint-Cirq Lapopie
Some of us are still shoveling snow, and some of us are already sweating. March has been…wild. How about we all escape to the south of France for a few minutes? You guessed it, it’s time again for Field Trip Friday!

From our base at the enchanting Le Vieux Couvent, our little group of intrepid sketchers explored a few of the stunning villages of the Lot Valley. Today I’ll share just two of them, Saint-Cirq Lapopie and Castelfranc.

Saint-Cirq Lapopie

Saint-Cirq Lapopie perches on a cliff 300 feet above the Lot river, the homes huddled at the feet of the church, dedicated to Saint Cyr and his mother, Saint Juliette. Since we were there in October, many shops and restaurants were closed for the season, but that just gave us more time to walk off our goat cheese while exploring the windy streets and admiring the breathtaking views. The entire village is classed as a historical monument, and many of the homes, built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, are well preserved. It’s also been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France, and I couldn’t agree more. It was one of my favorite excursions.

Even the doors and door knockers were fascinating!

We met this fellow when we stopped for lunch:


Castelfranc is a teensy (434 people) but adorable village where we sketched and picnicked one chilly day. It’s so teensy that I was unable to find out much about it, other than it was founded in the thirteenth century by the Bishop of Cahors. 

I sketched this scarecrow in the “garden of the senses” (jardin des sens):

Also in the jardin des sens

Spacing these blog entries out is proving to be a way to continue to savor the experience of traveling to France long after my suitcase has been unpacked. Thank you so much for coming along for the ride!

If you would like to visit Le Vieux Couvent and explore the Lot Valley with watercolor artist and teacher Laure Ferlita, I have good news. Laure plans a return trip to LVC in September 2019. Click here for more information (no affiliation). 


Mindful March: Work, Rest, and Healing

March 11, 2019

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

I’ve been playing with my theme of mindfulness these past 10 days—doing simple things like turning off the radio while I drive so I can hear myself think, pausing between tasks to take a breath and notice my surroundings, etc.  A sub-theme has appeared: listening*.

What I’m hearing, especially from my body, is that I need to take better care of myself. In addition to the pulled muscles from the fall from Tank, I’ve been dealing with severe tendonitis in my right (dominant) wrist and forearm. My preferred method of self-care, ignoring discomfort and pain and hoping it goes away, isn’t working. I’m also due for some routine checkups at various healthcare practitioners’ offices. The pain I’ve been having has impacted my exercise habits, which is a problem in itself. It’s time to reevaluate how I take care of my physical health, and devote a little more time and attention to it.

After a season of hard work preparing for my trip to France, and a season of turmoil, stress, and change following my dad’s death and moving Tank, I find I need extra time to care for my body, mind, and heart. I need renewal, nourishing, and to cut myself some slack. I do want to keep building my freelance business, and I have new projects I’m excited to work on, both professionally and personally. But at the same time, I’m trying to be better at responding when my mind cries “enough!” and my body stiffens from sitting at my desk and begs for some movement.

I know I’m lucky to have the flexibility I have—it’s much easier for me to move things around to get the healing and rejuvenation I need than it is for those who work full time for someone else, or who have small children at home. I’ve been in those situations, and I’m grateful for my current life stage…even if it is a bit challenging physically.

I also know that some of the crazy mind pressure I feel is coming from me and no one else. I know it’s important to set and reach goals, and not to waste hour after hour of precious time, but that constant, driving voice that remains impossible to please…that voice needs to stop.

And that’s what mindfulness has revealed so far this month!

How do you find balance when you need to work, but you also need rest and rejuvenation?

*I’ll be writing more about listening in March’s Happy Little Thoughts newsletter, a once-a-month email in which I share unique content, favorite recent reads, and other happy little things—click here to subscribe. 

In other news:

One of my favorite freelance articles ever has just been printed: “An American Quarter Horse in France” (click on the title to read the article). Monica and Bandit’s story is delightful—I hope you’ll check it out!


Time Renews Itself

March 08, 2019

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash
“Most of us take for granted that time flies, meaning that it passes too quickly. But in the mindful state, time doesn't really pass at all. There is only a single instant of time that keeps renewing itself over and over with infinite variety.”
—Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life

Action for Happiness

Mindful March

March 04, 2019

Though you may not have noticed, I sometimes choose a monthly theme around which I loosely organize my posts on Catching Happiness. For example, February’s was the unimaginative-but-appropriate “Love.” As I was casting around for a theme for March, I happened upon the Action for Happiness March calendar, “Mindful March”—how perfect! (Printable PDF file here.)

I’ve been bemoaning the speed with which life seems to be moving (HOW can it be March already?!) and feel like I’ve been missing my own life. I still feel anxious and stressed, even though things have settled down considerably after the whirlwind that was the last three months of 2018. I could do with a dose of mindfulness. Maybe you could, too? We can all benefit from paying more attention to the present moment.

So this month, I won’t be just writing a few posts related to mindfulness, I’ll be actively trying to practice it.

For me, mindfulness involves paying attention, focusing on the present moment and what I’m doing, thinking, or feeling. It has elements of appreciation and gratitude, because if I’m paying attention, I notice the simple pleasures and everyday adventures that populate my life. My worries fade, and I’m able to see the larger panorama, the ebb and flow of my own life’s experience. No matter what is happening, this, too, shall pass. As James Baraz says, “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”

How else might we (I) practice mindfulness this month? Here are a few things I’m going to try:

  • Use the Action for Happiness Mindful March calendar prompts for suggestions
  • Read a book about time. I’m going to check out Why Time Flies, by Alan Burdick
  • Practice mindful eating. I find it supremely difficult to eat and do nothing else—I also want to read, or watch a video online, or…
  • Use a timer to bring me back to myself after I’ve fallen down Internet rabbit holes while researching
  • Schedule time for daydreaming
  • Restart a yoga practice
  • Try meditation using the Headspace app I’ve had on my phone for more than a year

Would you like to explore mindfulness together? What do you do, or avoid doing, in order to become more mindful?


Moment By Moment

March 01, 2019

“When we can be centered in ourselves, even for brief periods of time in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or make us happy, we can be at home wherever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are,
moment by moment.”
―Jon Kabat-Zinn