The giant Moreton Bay fig shaded my daughter and me from the heat of the day as we made our way down the steep footpath to my crookedly parked car. The roots of the tree had broken through the concrete, so we chose our steps carefully.
“What did you just say Mummy?” asked my youngest daughter. Her question caused me to stop walking as I was unaware I’d said anything. I am now at an age where I am making murmured comments and sighing involuntarily. I knew it was happening when I was listening to talkback radio, or sitting down on the couch, or getting out of bed, but hadn’t realised it was also happening when I was adventuring with my daughter.
“Sweet pea, I didn’t realise you heard me, but I was just saying ‘woooah’ because of that view at the bottom of the hill.”
There, sparkling in front of us in all of her unashamed beauty was Sydney Harbour. It’s a sight I never tire of and at different times of my life I seek her out because a glimpse of that water makes my heart sing.
“Darling, seeing this makes me happy. Holding your hand makes me happy. Singing songs with you makes me happy! Getting out of this stinking-hot sun makes me happy.”
What is the key to happiness? Countless books, experts, researchers and souls far wiser than I have tried to crack its code. There is no simple recipe for being happy. However, for me, it means noticing and experiencing the small joys that make up our lives.
Too often we waste time waiting for our life to be “extraordinary” and forget to celebrate those fleeting moments that can add up to making us happy. Things like biting into a Wagon Wheel biscuit and tasting the soft, mushy marshmallow and lifting off that layer with my tongue before I reach the jam centre. Or finding a shop that sells old fashioned coconut ice and hiding the box in the back of the fridge where no one else can find it.
There are more. Stroking my old grey cat’s fuzzy felt fur and hearing him purr. Colouring my hair blue. Getting the right amount of flick to the corners of my black eyeliner. Taking off in a plane and rejoicing because no one can reach you in the clouds. Twirling in the surf at Khao Lak beach and holding my girls’ sandy fingers as we watch the pink sunset. In these moments my heart swells, my mind stops and I am present. These are times that equal happiness.
Laughter is also essential. When I laugh long and loud, life is good. So it made me happy to dress up in a green pea-in-a-pod suit and surprise my husband. Why was I dressed like that? Earlier that day, wearing my costume, I’d interviewed unsuspecting commuters in the city alongside my partner in silliness, Denise Drysdale, to promote our podcast. We thought Peter would find it hilarious.
“Surprise!” I shouted as he walked into our bedroom, where I was waiting for him to get home from work. There was a shocked silence, then a question.
“Are you alright?” asked Peter.
“Yes! Don’t you think this is funny?” I replied, getting in a huff.
Even with his less than enthusiastic response, I couldn’t help laughing later as I recounted the tale to friends.
Despite making a conscious effort to choose joy, since becoming a parent I recognise that I can only ever be as happy as my unhappiest child. There is a heaviness in my heart when my girls struggle, and no number of harbour sightings will lessen that. And although I logically know that we should never rely on anyone else for our happiness, we do.
I do my best to balance that weight in my heart by celebrating moments of joy with my family. When I pick up my daughters from school and they choose to chat with me about their day, it makes me happy. And those little things, amid the mess, the worry and chaos of life, are enough for me to recognise that today is a happy day.