New Year

Happy New Year from Catching Happiness

December 31, 2021

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Well, folks, we made it. 2021 is winding down. I hope you have a happy, peaceful, and safe New Year’s Eve. Here are a few words of wisdom to see the old year out and welcome in the new:

“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.”



“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

—T.S. Eliot


“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.”

—William E. Vaughan


“What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.”

—Vern McClellan

 See you in 2022!



All Days Are Gifts

December 24, 2021

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

“When you drive past other people’s houses, all the windows look brightly lit and all the faces look happy. But of course that happens when anybody drives past the houses of the Holiday Impaired, too; almost everybody looks good from far away when surrounded by a warm light within a frame of darkness. Let’s face it: we—the best and the worst of us—all tango through all these times as well as we can manage. Some years will be better than others, but all such days deserve recognition and, yes, celebration.

 “Why? Because, despite the fact that the holiday is not going to be perfect, not going to be like something out of a magazine (unless you count the official publication of the World Wrestling federation), and not going to be everything you hoped, it is a chance to make what might be just another day a memorable time. All days are gifts and should be celebrated; the holidays give us a chance to do it together.”

—Gina Barreca, “The Holiday Impaired,” collected in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season, and merry Christmas to all who celebrate!



Will Work for Joy

December 18, 2021

Photo by Kolby Milton on Unsplash

“I am willing to allow more joy into my life.”

—Monday yoga class affirmation.

It’s easy to feel joy when everything is going the way you want it to. But what about when life blows a big fat raspberry in your face? How can you seek joy when you’re going through tough times, and feeling grief, frustration, or anger?

While the holiday season does bring many simple pleasures (Holiday lights! Peppermint chip shakes!), it also ushers in longer to-do lists and the weight of a year-end reckoning. It can be a heavy time of year, especially if you’ve suffered losses or have troublesome issues on your mind (and who doesn’t?!). It can feel anything but joyful. And for many people, the cold, dark months of winter can be an added strain on their mental health.

It’s these rough times when we need to dig deeper to find practices that help us to feel joy.* Fortunately, psychologists and other professionals who study joy and happiness have some help for us. (While joy and happiness aren’t precisely the same thing, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m lumping them together.)

 Here are a few tips I’ve found useful lately:

It’s OK to feel joy, even when times are tough. Even when happy things are happening to and around me, sometimes I don’t let them register because so many people are suffering right now. I feel guilty, like I’m being insensitive. As Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful (see my post about the book here), points out “…feeling joy is different than pretending nothing’s wrong. And in [a] world where anxiety is a fixture, not an anomaly, joy is essential to our survival.” (Her entire post, “Can You Still Find Joy When It Feels Like the World Is Ending?” is worth a read.)

Let your environment help you feel more joyful. I also recently listened to a podcast interview with Ingrid Fetell Lee, and she reminded me how many ways we can bring joy into our surroundings. Two of her suggestions that I’ve embraced already include:

Having something green in my office (helps to reset concentration and attention). I have a lot of green in my home office, including green furniture and artificial plants (my cat eats real ones).

Keeping something silly or surprising in my car. Cars have a lot of little individual compartments that close up, and, according to Lee, that creates the potential for surprise, one of the factors that adds joy to our lives. I have a tiny origami dragon in one of the little compartments on my dash that makes me smile every time I see it. This could be a fun thing to do for someone else, too—hide a little fun surprise in their car.   

“Practice” positive emotions. According to psychologist and neuroscience researcher Lisa Feldman Barrett, our brains use our past experiences to make sense of and create the present. “By practicing particular emotions, you can ‘rewire,’ your brain…. So when you start to feel a negative emotion, such as sadness or frustration, you can more easily swap that negative feeling for a positive one, such as awe or gratitude.” For example, maybe the next time you’re stuck in traffic, instead of feeling frustrated, pause and feel grateful for the fact that you have a vehicle that runs and can take you where you need to go.

This may seem a bit “Pollyanna-ish,” I know, and I’m not saying we should ignore or stifle negative emotions completely. I do think we as a society have allowed ourselves to forget how good we have it and we’d be happier if we turned our focus more often to all that is good in our lives.

Actively seek experiences which bring about positive emotions. What actions or experiences bring you joy? How often do you deliberately perform those actions or have those experiences? Especially when times are hard, we can’t wait around for happiness and joy to “just happen.” We have to pursue them. As Natalie Dattilo, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, reminds us in “5 Happiness-Boosting Things to Do Before the End of the Year, According to a Positive Psychologist,” “Happiness doesn’t just happen… Routine and planned activation of the pleasure and reward centers of the brain is required to feel good and to preserve our ability to feel good in the future.”

These experiences don’t have to be complicated or expensive, either. The example I liked the best from this article, was the “awe walk”—a walk where you deliberately look for the unexpected and delightful—allowing yourself to experience the beauty and intricacy around you. (Read Dattilo’s five end-of-the-year happiness tips here. And for more ways to seek delight, visit NPR’s Joy Generator.) 

If you’re feeling little joy right now, I understand. And when you’re suffering, it seems impossible to do the things that might make you feel better. I hope one or more of these small things will help.

What little things can you do to welcome joy into your life?

*Please note: these suggestions are meant to help with run-of-the mill negative moods and emotions. They are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please seek the help of a mental health professional or other qualified provider if you have a mood disorder or depression.


Forget the Supply Chain, These Are the Shortages We Should Be Concerned About

December 10, 2021

Photo by Boris Dunand on Unsplash

“Order your gifts early,” the headlines trumpet! If you don’t, you might not be able to give the perfect gift and you’ll disappoint your family and friends! Those supply chain shortages we’ve been hearing about mean fewer things are available, and they’re taking longer to get here.

Though it’s definitely frustrating to find a gift you think someone will love, only to realize you can’t get your hands on it, it’s really nothing more than an inconvenience. No one is going to be seriously affected if he doesn’t get [insert holiday gift here]. I’m more concerned about these things our society is showing critical shortages of:

  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Consideration
  • Forgiveness
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Gratitude

We’re all tired. We’re all fighting our own battles. I don’t think I’m the only one who finds her feelings running very close to the surface. It doesn’t take much to tip me into anger, frustration, fear, or grief, so I’m trying harder to hold onto patience and kindness, to keep my mouth shut when I want to “correct” someone, and to be grateful for my precious life.

Supply chain issues or no, we can all give the gift of letting that car merge into traffic ahead of us. Being patient with the overwhelmed cashier. Forgiving our partners for hurting our feelings.

We can do without the most popular gadget of the season. What we can’t do without is caring about each other.

Fall fun list

Updates, Updates, I Have Updates

December 03, 2021

That headline sounds a lot more exciting than the updates I have for you warrant, but I do, indeed, have updates.

2021 Gratitude Challenge

Though I didn’t post every day, I participated in the 2021 Gratitude Challenge throughout November. I decided to go easy on myself and post only when I felt inspired, though I read and thought about all the prompts. I wound up posting 18 times. Three of my favorites: 

Day 4 Laughter

Last week my friends and I attended opening night of the first show of our Broadway series in Tampa. Tootsie made me laugh out loud, and oh how I've missed that! It's been almost two years since we've been able to see a show, and how sweet it was. I'm grateful not only for the laughter, but for all the wonderful performances of the artists. We're so happy you're back!

Day 13 Kindness

Wishing for a world where kindness is the norm, and every day is World Kindness Day. Grateful for the kindness that exists even now, when being kind is sometimes taken advantage of. Kindness isn't weakness.

Day 24 Art

"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls."--Pablo Picasso. I don't know about you, but my soul needs a shower! I've missed visiting art museums, and I'm looking forward to going again soon. I'm grateful for the escape and inspiration art provides, especially paintings like these my husband and I saw at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Maine.

(To see all my Gratitude Challenge posts on Instagram, click here.) 

My fall fun list

I did great with my modest fall fun list, and since a couple of these were out of my control, I’m calling this a win. Completed items in red.

  • Resume attending touring Broadway productions at the Straz in Tampa. First up: Tootsie at the end of October. 
  • Go see Dune in a theater with my husband. (Watched at home on HBO Max instead, and glad we did.)
  • Decorate my house for fall.
  • Do my current jigsaw puzzle. It’s not fall-themed, but I’d like to put it together before buying any more puzzles.
  • Buy some fall potted flowers—mums or?
  • Walk at a local park or recreation area with my husband and dog.
  • Eat dinner at Bern’s Steakhouse with another couple. We’ve had to cancel this meal twice because of COVID. (Unfortunately, this got cancelled again.) 
  • Choose a new set of inserts for my planner for 2022. 
  • Plant some cool season veggies and herbs. Hope springs eternal, despite some pitiful efforts in the past. Planted lettuce spinach, and jalapenos from seed. (The spinach and lettuce sprouted, but the jalapenos did not. I bought a seedling from a big box store…and then my cat ate most of its leaves, and the dog ate some of the spinach before we realized what she was doing. The struggle is real.)
  • Read and/or write outside…once we get a real cold front. (Didn’t happen yet, but technically I have until December 21 before fall becomes winter and it’s likely that I will work outside before then…)
  • And yes, drink at least one pumpkin spice latte.

Why I share updates

I don’t really think you’re waiting on the edges of your seats to see if I complete the Gratitude Challenge or drink a pumpkin spice latte. The point of creating and sharing fun lists and other challenge-type info is to encourage you to think about what YOU would find fun and challenging, with the bonus that it keeps me more accountable if I’ve shared my plans publicly. I try to write about both my successes and failures so that maybe someone will benefit from my experiences (today’s tip: keep young vegetable seedlings away from pets). These lists also help me think about how I spend my time. I tend to get caught up in the day-to-day rush and don’t plan or allow for the very simple pleasures and everyday adventures that bring me joy.

What else is on your mind, Kathy?

Why, I’m glad you asked!

Dear Reader, I’m thinking about the holidays. How they can be fun without being overwhelming. What will make them feel festive and special? I foresee a holiday fun list in the future! There may also be a year-end review of some kind. What should I include? Favorite books? Word of the year update? If you have suggestions, please share in the comments below.

What’s on your mind these days? Holiday fun? Year-end reviews? Planning for a new year? Any updates you would like to share? Id love to hear in the comments.


How to Calm Down and Destress Link Love

November 19, 2021

Photo by Hanna Balan on Unsplash

I’ve been more stressed and anxious than usual the last month or so, and with the holiday season approaching… All the yoga, barn time, and bubble baths will not be equal to the task. Even though the Internet can be a source of stress, it can also be a source of helpful and healing ideas. Here are a few links I’ve loved recently:

During this busy time of year, who couldn’t use “5 Resilience Tips for the Frazzled”?

Read Ingrid Fetell Lee’s “A Guide to Joyful Gift-Giving” before you choose your holiday gifts. I love finding presents that seem “perfect” for people, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on myself, and there’s no guarantee the receiver will love the gift the way I hope they will. So I’m scaling back my expectations, and remembering that “the real reason we give a gift is to show we care about someone.” 

I’ll be trying some of Courtney Carver’s “25 Simple Ways to Take Care of Yourself Over the Holidays,” especially #2 and (of course) #15.

Loved the pretty pictures in Tammy Strobel’s (Rowdy Kittens) Delight Diary. I just finished reading Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights and am pondering how I can do something similar. 

Even though this is a year old, “51 Ways to Destress, Calm Down, and Feel Less Lonely Right Now” still has TONS of great ideas.

I’m a fan of hygge, even in sultry Florida. Check out these “Simple Ways to Add Hygge to Your Winter Routine.” 

And if you’re just looking for something far removed from social media and the craziness of the world we live in, check out The Public Domain Review. I just discovered it and haven’t yet had the chance to explore it much. It looks interesting, even if some of the topics go straight over my head. 

Let’s finish this off with a video featuring relaxing nature sounds:

Happy Friday, and happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate!

Feeding the wolf

The Wolf You Feed

November 12, 2021

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Does it feel like the world has become a darker, scarier place? It does to me.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we discussed, jokingly (wishfully?), going back to a time when we were not as intimately aware of the many problems facing mankind, whether it was because we were younger and more innocent, absorbed in our own lives, or simply because we did not have 24/7 news from the farthest flung reaches of the earth thrust into our faces at every turn. We know that’s not possible, or even desirable, but…

It’s hard to be happy when there is so much misery all around.

Of course, it’s anyone’s guess if the world truly is more miserable right now, compared to historical times that include the Dark Ages, the Black Death, and the Holocaust, just to name three examples. Perhaps we are just more aware of the misery because of that 24/7 news cycle. 

It’s a question I ponder over and over: how to be happy while still having compassion for others. How to be aware but not feel overwhelmed. How to remain kind and open, instead of judgmental and angry.

The story of the two wolves

You’ve probably heard the story of the two wolves (or dogs, in some versions), sometimes attributed to the Cherokee or Lenape people. Briefly, it goes like this: 

An elderly Cherokee brave explained to his grandson that a battle is taking place inside of people—a battle between two wolves. One wolf is evil, representing things like anger, jealousy, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, lies, false pride, and a feeling of superiority. The other represents good: such things as peace, joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion, and truth. The grandson asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The grandfather replied, “The wolf you feed.”

So I’m making a choice to feed the good wolf.

Feeding the good wolf will look different for each person. For me, it means choosing to hope and to look for good, rather than focusing on the negative, incompetent, frustrating, and evil. In my own situation, in order to feed the good wolf, I have to limit:

  • Stories (fictional or real) of mean people doing ugly things to each other.
  • Books/movies/TV shows where one bad thing after another happens to the characters, so that I’m constantly dreading what fresh hell these people will have to deal with.
  • Social media accounts of people with strong political opinions, even ones I tend to agree with overall. Too often complicated situations are reduced to memes, and the comments sections suck me in and stir up my emotions.
  • “Doomscrolling”—immersing myself in the negative news of the day.

What I (try to) do instead:

  • Notice and savor stories about kind things people do for each other, amazing scientific discoveries, beautiful art, hilarious videos. Among other sources, I follow Upworthy and subscribe to the Smile newsletter from to help balance out negative news. 
  • Practice yoga. Very calming to my nervous system.
  • Listen to music—different types depending on my mood.
  • Learn more about topics that interest me.
  • Do “real” things like planting seeds, spending time with my animals, cooking and baking, even small home projects and repairs. I haven’t made it back to art journaling, but I still want to.
  • Tell my people important things: how much I love them, or how a certain thing they did was special to me.
  • Read a LOT—but carefully curate the selections (see above).
  • Keep track of happy little things. Watching birds and squirrels at the feeders, inhaling the scent of my horse, rubbing Luna’s soft ears, a hug from my husband. For more inspiration, see Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, which is itself (you knew this was coming) a delight. 
  • Don’t make snap judgments or have opinions about everything. Try to see both sides of an argument or issue. If it’s something I need to understand, I will do research. If it’s not that important, I’ll let it go. There’s no shame in saying, “I don’t know enough about that to have an opinion.” I can’t care passionately about everything. I just can. not.

Finding what works for you

I’m not saying we should ignore the wrongs and suffering in the world in favor of “always looking on the bright side.”  I’m saying we should know ourselves, and what we can handle. What balance we as individuals can stand before tipping into overwhelm. What stories can energize us to make a difference, and which ones will make us crawl in a hole and pull the hole in after us.

I’m saying that if we feed the good wolf in ourselves, then maybe we can feed the good wolf in society in general. If we can seek and be the positive, maybe we can be the people who make a situation better rather than worse.

Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

In what ways do you “feed the good wolf”?


Practicing Gratitude: Join the 2021 Gratitude Challenge!

November 05, 2021

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Practicing gratitude is a time-tested way to boost happiness. That’s one reason why I look forward to Postively Present’s annual Gratitude Challenge, which runs for the month of November. I’ve participated in this challenge since 2014, and every year I’ve loved taking that extra time to think about what I’m grateful for. Many people, including myself, post a photo and caption on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, labeled #Gratitude30, but of course that’s optional. If you want to check it out, click here for the 2021 prompts. Even if you don’t choose to share what you’re grateful for publicly, you’ll probably find that it makes you happy just to spend time thinking about it. 

At the end of November or the beginning of December, I’ll post a round up of my favorite prompts here on Catching Happiness. I post on Instagram, and if you’d like to follow along, you can follow me by clicking here.

What’s one thing you’re grateful for today? Please share in the comments below.

Interested in past challenges? Click on the year to see the applicable Gratitude Challenge round-up post: 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020. (I participated in 2015, but didn't write a round-up post!)


Open the Door

October 29, 2021

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

“Happiness occurs when you forget who you’re expected to be. And what you’re expected to do. Happiness is an accident of self-acceptance. It’s the warm breeze you feel when you open the door to who you are.”

—Matt Haig, The Comfort Book


Signs of Normalcy?

October 22, 2021

I ran some errands this week. It was very exciting.

If you’re like me, you’ve been putting off errands, or ordering stuff online, or just doing without, because The World is Awful and What Difference Does It Make If I Have Potted Mums on My Front Porch Because No One Will See Them Anyway.

But Florida’s COVID numbers are down, and I needed to drop off some books at the library and buy groceries, so I figured, why not throw caution to the wind and go to a nursery and buy some pretty mums to brighten up our porch and lanai? You know, add a little fall cheer to our décor. (Plus buying fall flowers was on my Fall Fun List.)

So I did. And I bought one of those cute little pumpkins the squirrels love so much (but I’m putting that on the screened lanai instead of the porch, so there, squirrels.)

This week is the first time I’ve felt somewhat normal in oh, 18 months or so, partly because I’m doing “normal” things—buying groceries, decorating for fall, planning a family get-together (someone will see my mums!), focusing on seasonal pleasures like pumpkin spice lattes (had one of those this week, too).

I know in some ways nothing will ever be the same. Still, I’m encouraged to find that the simple pleasures of seasonal decorating, flowers, good things to drink, even running pleasant errands, can bring me joy again after such a long stretch of unhappiness and anxiety.

I hope you’re finding some signs of normalcy in your life—please share any simple pleasures and everyday adventures you’ve enjoyed recently in the comments below!


The Things I Take for Granted

October 15, 2021

Photo by mrjn Photography on Unsplash

Last week we had a problem with our home’s sprinkler system, and while we were trying to get it fixed, we had to shut off the water to our house for a couple of days. Every time I went to wash my hands or rinse a piece of fruit I had to stop and figure out an alternative. I take running water for granted.

I also take people for granted. On Sunday, I attended a visitation for the mother of a good friend. One moment she was here, living a vibrant life, and the next she was gone. I take for granted the presence in my life of people I love, including my own mom, stepmother, and mother-in-law.

During the pandemic the supply chain (a phrase many of us had never heard before) has been disrupted resulting in shortages of seemingly random items (cat food, computer chips) and skyrocketing prices (basically everything). As Americans, most of us are not used to NOT being able to buy what we need (and want). Most of us are not used to not being able to do what we want. We’re used to Amazon two-day delivery, the ability to retrieve information online in seconds, and drive-thru fast food. We’re surrounded by miracles and we don’t even realize it. We have taken for granted all the many advantages and conveniences of our society.

And that’s not necessarily bad. Not worrying over and spending lots of time hunting for our basic needs has freed us up to do other positive things. But it wouldn’t hurt us (me) one bit to become more mindful of what we take for granted. To stop to appreciate those things, many of which people in other countries would be most grateful to have access to.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve had to learn how to savor the simple pleasures available to us, to put off others to the future in order to limit the spread of an illness that can be randomly debilitating or even fatal. We’ve had more time to think about what really makes us happy. Like most people, I’ve been changed by the pandemic in ways I don’t understand yet. And though I do still take many things for granted, I hope I will remember days when all I wanted was a drink of water from the faucet, a trip to the movie theater with my husband, or to see my mom in person without feeling like I was bringing a host of frightening germs with me.

I know when things feel safer and more “back to normal” I’ll probably fall back into taking things for granted. But until then, when I put my key in my car’s ignition and it starts, when I flip a switch and the lights come on, or I turn a handle and water pours out, I hope I can remember to be grateful.

What are some things you take for granted?


A Fall Fun List—the Something to Look Forward To Edition

October 08, 2021

Photo by pure julia on Unsplash

It feels like it’s been a long, long time since I had something to look forward to. Sure, I’ve had the occasional outing or simple pleasure, but they’ve been few and far between. During Florida’s hot summer months I tend to conserve my energy, as evidenced by my tiny summer fun list.

I don’t usually make a fall fun list, but this year I’m going to. I need something to look forward to. And so do you.

The importance of anticipation

Having something to anticipate with pleasure helps us to imagine a more positive, hopeful future, rather than a litany of work, bad news, and stressful events. Planning a future simple pleasure or everyday adventure gives us a small feeling of control. When my planner pages have a coffee date with a friend or a notation that I intend to catch up on my magazine reading instead of only doing work and errands, I feel a small mood boost. I’m going to do my best to do all of these before the first day of Winter, Dec. 21.

My fall fun list

  • Resume attending touring Broadway productions at the Straz in Tampa. First up: Tootsie at the end of October. 
  • Go see Dune in a theater with my husband.
  • Decorate my house for fall.
  • Do my current jigsaw puzzle. It’s not fall-themed, but I’d like to put it together before buying any more puzzles.
  • Buy some fall potted flowers—mums or?
  • Walk at a local park or recreation area with my husband and dog.
  • Eat dinner at Bern’s Steakhouse with another couple. We’ve had to cancel this meal twice because of COVID. 
  • Choose a new set of inserts for my planner for 2022. 
  • Plant some cool season veggies and herbs. Hope springs eternal, despite some pitiful efforts in the past. 
  • Read and/or write outside…once we get a real cold front.
  • And yes, drink at least one pumpkin spice latte.

What are you looking forward to this fall?

Thank you to Laura Vanderkam, whose fall fun list inspired this post.

Happiness museum

Octoberly Link Love

October 01, 2021

Octoberly isn’t a word, but I think it should be. Doesn’t it sound sort of fall-ish? As October creeps in, I’m enjoying the way the light falls through the trees, the adorable little pumpkins at the grocery store, and the ubiquitous presence of pumpkin spice. Here are a few more things I’ve enjoyed recently:

Check out the Action for Happiness Optimistic October calendar here. Today’s task is to “Write down three things you can look forward to this month.” 

I love doing jigsaw puzzles, and I was thrilled to read “Jigsaw Puzzles Can Improve Your Life More Than You Realize.” I’ve got a new puzzle sitting on my dining room table right now waiting for me to start it. 

Ingrid Fetell Lee’s posts at The Aesthetics of Joy have especially resonated with me lately. I found “Are You Talking Yourself Out of Joy? Here’s How to Stop” and “6 Ways to Find Joy During Times of Change” especially good reading.

I loved this story, and especially the message the dad wanted to share: “Some people can make any situation worse, and some people can make any situation better… always be that second person….”

If visiting Denmark (consistently ranked one of the happiest countries in the world) is on your travel wish list, here’s one more reason to go. In July of 2020, the Happiness Research Institute opened the world’s first happiness museum in Copenhagen. 

Stephanie Hayes’ newspaper columns often make me laugh, and “Christmas is canceled, Tampa Bay. Instead, choose one of these holidays” was one of my recent favorites. (You don’t need to live in Tampa Bay to appreciate the humor.) Subscribe to her free newsletter if you’d like to read more of her writing.

How fun is this?

Happy Friday—and may October be full of simple pleasures and everyday adventures!

What Octoberly pleasures are you looking forward to?


Out of the Dirt

September 24, 2021

A couple of weeks ago when I went to add some kitchen scraps to our backyard compost pile, I came upon this:


It’s not unusual to see a volunteer tomato or cucumber (or whatever this is!) growing in the compost pile. But the juxtaposition of something green and growing bursting out of what is essentially trash and manure gave me a little burst of hope. Maybe out of my own messy mental compost pile something will grow! Maybe something green and growing is awaiting humankind if we can make it through this era of turmoil and upheaval. Maybe.

Composting takes time. Old things must break down and reform into new. But when the process is done, you have rich, dark humus to enrich your garden beds. From that enrichment, beautiful things grow.

I’m trying to remember not to be afraid of the mess and breakdown that can bring forth something wonderful.

How about you? Is something breaking down in your life? Perhaps that’s just the prelude to the growth of something wonderful!

Summer fun list

Summer Fun/Reading List Update

September 17, 2021

Tank on the trail

Only five days until the calendar says it’s fall! It may not feel like fall here in Florida for another month or two, but I’m already contemplating fall simple pleasures and making up a fall fun list. 

But before I do that, let’s review my summer fun list and see how I did.

I was right to make a less-than-ambitious summer fun list, and I was able to do all but one item on it (completed items in red): 

  • Have an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins (many of my happy growing-up memories revolve around B & R, as we fondly called it)
  • Read and/or write at a café (now that I’m vaccinated) [COVID went nuts in Florida, and I chose to try not to expose myself to it]
  • Create and read from a summer reading list (post to come)
  • Get together with friends I haven’t seen in more than a year, because, well, you know…

In addition, I also:

  • Traveled to California to visit family and friends (and Lassen Volcanic National Park)
  • Went trail riding in June!
  • Hosted a couple of small family get-togethers
  • Browsed in my library’s used bookstore, which had been closed since last year
It’s been mostly a quiet summer, and I’m OK with that. I’m hoping as the weather cools off and I get my normal fall energy boost, I’ll start to explore a few more simple pleasures and everyday adventures.

Summer reading update

Summer reading went really well! I read most of the books on my summer reading list, and more:

For my long book, I’m thinking of reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I’m not sure how to describe this one, except that it involves magic and the politics of the Napoleonic wars (?)  People seem to love it or hate it.

Started. Mixed feelings so far. Not loving it. Intrigued enough to keep making my way through for now, but I reserve the right to abandon it. I have my own copy, so I can take my time without worrying about library due dates. 

I’m very interested in Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin for my writer’s biography. I also just received a copy of May Sarton’s Plant Dreaming Deep, which is more of a journal/memoir than a biography. It appeals to me because I loved Journal of a Solitude and The House by the Sea. Of course, I could kill two books with one stone (long book and writer biography) and tackle my still-unread Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (clocking in at more than 600 pages of dense type and footnotes)!

Read: Plant Dreaming Deep (loved it!)

A friend gifted me Tirzah Price’s Pride and Premeditation and we’ll be reading it together. This “clever retelling of Pride and Prejudice…reimagines the iconic settings, characters, and romances in a thrilling and high-stakes whodunit.” Sounds fun!


This year, I’m throwing some poetry into the mix with Arias, by Sharon Olds.

Check again.

I’ve been very slowly rereading Agatha’s Christie’s books in order, so I’ll probably pull The Man in the Brown Suit off my home library shelf to serve as my comfort reread.

Yup. And also The Secret of Chimneys and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I especially enjoyed Chimneys, as my memory of it was hazy. 

I’m undecided on reading a classic. At the moment, I haven’t got one lined up, but that may change. 


I’m in the hold line to read Laura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me, a Modern Mrs. Darcy recommendation. Many people are ahead of me, so I hope I get to this one before summer’s end.

Just finished, and it was worth the wait.

In the meantime, I’ll likely pick up another Modern Mrs. Darcy rec that I already had on my radar: Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. 

Different, but good.

Now that summer’s nearly over I’m anticipating fall and all its simple pleasures. I’ll start working on a fall fun list, and maybe even a fall reading list—I’ve never done that before! There are already things to look forward to during my favorite season. But until then, I’ll try to savor the last few days of summer…from my air-conditioned home, of course J.

What were the highlights of your summer?


We Can Build Happiness

September 10, 2021

“We have the capacity to build happiness into our lives with humor, concern for others, and gratitude. Of course, we can’t do it all of the time. That self-expectation would drive us crazy. However, we can develop habits that make it more likely that we will respond in an upbeat manner.

“It’s critical to distinguish between choosing to live lovingly and cheerfully and living a life of denial. One leads to joy, the other to emotional death.”

—Mary Pipher, Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age


Suddenly September

September 03, 2021

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

“September days have the warmth of summer in their briefest hours, but in their lengthening evenings a prophetic breath of autumn.”

—Rowland E. Robinson

I’m always happy to turn the calendar page from August to September. Though it’s not quite fall yet, and even if we don’t see the type of season change here in Florida that other places do, there’s still a feeling that fall is coming. My favorite season.

The first thing I notice is a change in the light. We say gleefully, “It looks like fall!” My birthday is in September, as is my mom’s, so that lends the month a bit of a celebratory air. I plan to take full advantage of the freebies businesses offer me during my birth month. I scan the forecast for a drop in high temperature that I won’t see until at least the end of October, but I also know the worst of the heat and humidity is likely behind us.

September makes me think of new school supplies and setting goals. I think about what I can still accomplish and experience before the end of the year. How have I been doing with the goals I set for myself this year? I’ll still have time to reach—or at least make progress on—some of them.

I’m anticipating fall’s simple pleasures—fancy coffee drinks, pumpkins everywhere, and a certain warmth that has nothing to do with the actual temperature. Scarecrows and pots of chrysanthemums appear on front porches. Pomegranates make their first appearance in the produce section.

September is the start of all that. And I’m here for it. What about you?

What simple pleasures and everyday adventures do you anticipate this month?


Something Small or Nothing at All

August 27, 2021

When the world becomes as horrifying and tragic as it feels right now, I tend to despair and retreat. Realistically, what can I possibly do to ease the suffering of people in Haiti or Afghanistan? To comfort the family grieving for someone lost to COVID? I’ve been paralyzed by the scope of need, and by feeling personally burned out to the point where I feel unable to do anything.

My inconveniences and irritations pale in comparison to the genuine suffering around me. It feels almost sacrilegious to seek and write about happiness. But I know the life I have is a gift, and I don’t want to waste it. Here are a few thoughts I’ve been pondering as I try to take in what is happening in the world, and figure out what I can do to help others as well as live my own precious gift of a life to the fullest. Maybe you will find some inspiration or comfort from these words, too.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”—Marie Curie


“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, ‘What else could this mean?’”—Shannon L. Alder


“If it is true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, isn’t it also true a society is only as healthy as its sickest citizen and only as wealthy as its most deprived?”—Maya Angelou, Even the Stars Look Lonesome


“When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”—Thich Nhat Hahn


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”—Leo Tolstoy

“Anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public.”—Krista Tippett


“Worry is useful when it changes our behavior in productive ways. The rest of the time, it's a negative form of distraction, an entertainment designed to keep us from doing our work and living our lives.”—Seth Godin


“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”—Theodore Roosevelt


And finally,

“We think the choice is between doing something big or something small. But really, it’s between doing something small or nothing at all.”—Lorenzo Gravina, “The Value of Doing a Little.” 

(Note: this quote is specifically referring to developing habits, but it’s applicable to many other situations!) 

What small thing can you do today to promote happiness and positivity?


Welcome to the Jungle

August 13, 2021

Photo by Su San Lee on Unsplash

We had our carpets cleaned on Monday.

We prepped for this by moving everything movable out of the rooms to be cleaned—small pieces of furniture, storage boxes, and so on. This is what our family room looked liked:

There was also this:

For the past four months, our house has been in more than its usual state of shambles. We already had our adult son living and working remotely from his childhood bedroom when in February my mother-in-law permanently moved out of her apartment into what was our guest room/exercise space. We’ve scrambled to find places to store things we’d kept in her closet (hurricane supplies and holiday decorations, for example) and furniture we didn’t want to get rid of since we knew our son was with us temporarily. He moved out in June, and before we made over his room into our new guest room/exercise space, we needed to clean his carpet, and, well, why not clean all the carpets in the house?

Bear with me, I do have a point…

While I was staring at the chaos in my family room, I realized it quite beautifully reflects the unsettled nature of my inner world right now. My personal space situation plus some additional family challenges (not to mention the state of the world!) have affected my mood, my creativity, and my outlook on life. Even my office, which used to be a haven, had become a dumping ground of paper, projects, and other things that needed to be read or otherwise dealt with. Projects I started at the beginning of the year when I felt optimistic had been buried by an onslaught of paper and other ephemera of decisions made and unmade to the point where I didn’t even want to go in there anymore. (I was embarrassed to have the carpet cleaning guy see it!)

Does this ever happen to you? Your surroundings or events in your personal life become overwhelming, and you feel unable to focus, or make progress on your goals, or even feel optimistic about the future? That’s how I've been feeling. But now that the carpets are dry, and we’ve moved almost everything where it needs to go, I feel more hopeful. I’ve spent much of this week sifting through the Pit of Despair (formerly known as my office), and I’ve made progress there, too.

The chaos is lifting. And while I slowly sort my way through the remaining mess, I’ve been reflecting on the things that did help with life in the jungle, even though I practiced them imperfectly. And they might help you, too, if you're living in chaos right now:

  • Accept that things are unsettled, and that this is the way it is right now. No use pining for the good old days, or railing against the Universe. It is what it is. “This is the adventure I’m going on next” (thank you, Martha Beck).
  • Find one small area you can put in order and retreat there when it becomes too much. My bathroom remained basically unchanged, and I’ve taken many a relaxing bubble bath over the past months. Maybe your retreat involves listening to music in your car, sipping wine on the front porch, or retiring to bed an hour early in order to read a novel that takes you far, far away. There has to be someplace. Find it and make it yours.
  • Realize that this won’t last forever. Whatever the situation, it WILL change eventually, even if you don’t know how it will change. When our son needed to move home, I knew it would be temporary, and I tried not to be upset about losing the peace of our empty nest. 
  • Don’t let your own dreams completely disappear. Choose something small and doable on the way to a personal desire. And do it! Even so, through everything except quarantine when my husband had COVID-19, I’ve continued to see my horse Tank every day or two, even when we just hang out together. He reminds me that dreams DO come true. 
What are your favorite ways to cope when life gets chaotic?


Mrs. Miniver and the Times in Which We Live

August 06, 2021

Recently I read the 1939 classic novel Mrs. Miniver (Amazon, Bookshop). And while the society we live in has changed a lot since then, I was struck by how spot on some of the passages were to the times in which we live. For instance:

“…Mrs. Miniver was beginning to feel more than a little weary of exchanging ideas (especially political ones) and of hearing other people exchange theirs. It’s all very well, she reflected, when the ideas have had time to flower, or at least to bud, so that we can pick them judiciously, present them with a bow, and watch them unfold in the warmth of each other’s understanding: but there is far too much nowadays of pulling up the wretched little things just to see how they are growing. Half the verbal sprigs we hand each other are nothing but up-ended rootlets, earthy and immature: left longer in the ground they might have some to something, but once they are exposed we seldom manage to replant them. It is largely the fault, no doubt, of the times we life in. Things happen too quickly, crisis follows crisis, the soil of our minds is perpetually disturbed. Each of us, to relieve his feelings, broadcasts his own running commentary on the preposterous and bewildering events of the hour: and this, nowadays, is what passes for conversation.”

Substitute pandemic for war in this section:

“And it oughtn’t to need a war to make us talk to each other in buses, and invent our own amusements in the evenings, and live simply, and eat sparingly, and recover the use of our legs, and get up early enough to see the sun rise. However, it has needed one: which is about the severest criticism our civilization could have.

“I wonder whether it’s too much to hope that afterwards, when all the horrors are over, we shall be able to conjure up again the feelings of these first few weeks, and somehow rebuild our peace-time world so as to preserve everything of war which is worth preserving. What we need is a kind of non-material warm museum, where, instead of gaping at an obsolete uniform in a glass case, we can press a magic button and see a vision of ourselves as we were while this revealing mood was freshly upon us.”

When the pandemic first began, I felt a sense of camaraderie, a spirit of “We’re all in this together.” While there were incidents of stunningly selfish behavior, there were also incidents of kindness, encouragement, and a desire to protect others. Now…not so much. We are all weary from the constant barrage of opinion, science that changes and evolves as health experts learn more about this novel virus, and fear that we or someone we love will become seriously sick or even die.

I wish I had the answers to the problems we’re facing. What I’m trying to do is be the person who makes the situation better (not the person who makes the situation worse), by posting positive and uplifting content, and by trying to be personally responsible in my daily actions. I’m seeking comfort in the words of those who’ve come before, whether in a novel written in the 1930s, or in the words of mental health experts who share ways to cope with our new normal. I’m hoping to offer comfort and encouragement in the words I speak and the words I share here on Catching Happiness.

If you’re feeling discouraged, sad, or worried, my heart goes out to you. If there’s anything you’d like to see on Catching Happiness that would lift your spirits, please share in the comments below or message me privately at kathyjohn335 [at] gmail [dot] com. And go find yourself a copy of Mrs. Miniver—it’s a mood lifter!