Musings + Essays

When Was the Last Time You Felt Really Happy?

By: Jen Shoop

Stop for a second.

When was the last time you felt truly happy? Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing?

It’s funny – with children, I find delicate slivers of that elated, full-to-the-brim feeling sprinkled throughout the week. I took my daughter on a “mama-Emu day” (Emu being a nickname we have for her) earlier this week: pediatrician for a wellness check and three (!) shots (!!), bagel shop for a car picnic, a haircut, the post office, then cupcakes as a reward. Amidst the moments of hesitation and the flood of vaccine tears and some plying on my part, the entire morning, I found myself glancing at her little flushed-from-the-90-degree-heat face in the rear view mirror as she narrated our journey: “Mama, are we in the city now?” “Mama, are we all the way to New York?” “Mama, why did we turn here?” “Mama, look at that big blue truck!” At one point, I looked back at her and there was cream cheese on her cheeks and her fingers were playing idly with her “Foxy” stuffed animal and her enormous hazel eyes were drinking in the whole world in enormous gulps. I thought my soul might burst out of my body. It was a near-delirious kind of happiness, the sort that leaves you laughing at inappropriate moments or smiling dumbly at the stoplight.

I feel similarly when rocking my boy to sleep, or during those unexpected moments of tenderness where he wraps his arms around me, or sprints over and takes my hand to show me something very important, like the sprinkler turning on in the backyard, or a spiderweb on a bush branch, or a plane flying overhead.

And, too, when my husband slips out of the bedroom when he first hears my son stir in the morning so I can continue to sleep, and yet I lay there, somewhere between awake and asleep, and I listen to his conversations and reprimands and laughs with our two children, and I think: this is good, God is good. And when he does those little husband things, with near-reflexive considerateness, not even out of conscious kindness, just — ho hum, this is the way it gets done for my wife! — like setting up my desk and desktop computer and new chair for me in my new office as a top priority during the move-in, and putting the non-shattered bedside table on my side of the bed (one was distroyed in transit — sob! — and he just, like, assumes that the broken one will be his), and figuring out — wordlessly — which day to take the garbage out to the curb, and bringing my glass of wine to me when I’ve left it downstairs, collecting condensation on the coffee table. And, too, when we are sitting together on our new patio after the children are down, talking about nothing and everything, the night spooling out in front of us into the still-shocking backyard, glittering with fireflies. Little dubloons of goodness that send my heart to the top of the flagpole and leave me wanting for nothing but more of him. (And one more, and one more, and one more…)

These are the little moments of glee, of near-reckless happiness, glimmering sequin-like throughout the drag and pull of everyday parenting and adulting which — let me be honest — has felt particularly leaden-footed these past few weeks, where, for example, all I need to do is empty this box into the medicine cabinet, or answer the phone call from the pediatrician, and yet there is chaos and rule-setting and cries for milk and bruises and the now-new process of defining boundaries in a now-new home. It has been a lot. Still, these tiny ducats of happiness gleam gold throughout.

Now that I think about it, is it possible to experience a full day of happiness? A full afternoon? Or does happiness always exist like this: in startling sips? I think back on a couple of fantastic trips, experiences, meals, special occasions, “golden hours,” and I feel as though maybe I’ve “rounded up” and written the entirety of the day off as “happy” when I’m certain, come to think of it, there were moments of stress or frustration or quietude tucked in there alongside the good. And what does it mean that I think about happiness as little dots along the seams of my days? What am I feeling when I do not experience that elation? Am I simply in neutral? I do not feel that my default state is on the negative side of the equation: I think that when I am not consciously sad or happy, I am sitting in a position of receptivity. Do you feel that way, too?

Shopping Break.

+Apparently clogs are going to be big for fall. I mean, I truly lived in my No. 6 clog boots last winter, but now I’m even eyeing actual clogs, like these, these, these, or these. What say you?

+Speaking of fall, eyeing this sweater and this cardigan along with the Alice Walk styles I mentioned recently.

+Seriously tempted by this La Ligne dress, on sale for 40% off, in my size…

+This $20 dress (I own in the khaki color) was just released in even more colors!

+Speaking of khaki, I am in love with this just-released J. Crew top in the “beechwood” (khaki) color. So chic with white denim!

+CHIC rattan chippendale dining chairs.

+OO this cover up!!! Even more great cover ups here.

+Absolutely smitten with this crisp and versatile white skirt.

+This anything-but-basic white top is so up my alley.

+Reasonably priced throw blanket in a great blue pattern.

+Fun $20 heart jams for a little.

+More cute finds for littles here.

+And — this $26 floral sweatshirt!!!

+I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love this label maker.

+I bought mini these $25 rainboots in blue — per her request for blue rainboots — and was surprised at how well they held up! Not as flexible rubber as Hunter, but nice! And the little hooks make them easy to pull on.

+This cake server set!!!

+I’ve been so into Kule striped tees for the last two years — kind of want to check out Ayr’s French Fry now! Great colors, too.

+This blue and white dress is spectacular.

+It’s the tassel for me.

+Rattan pendant lamp at a good price.

+Inexpensive flower sandals for a little lady.

+These are so deliciously dramatic — sort of like Carrie Bradshaw meets 2021.


+Love the whipstitch details on these makeup removing cloths discovered via Bradley.

+Straight-up adorable top.

+Cute woven dog bed.

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21 thoughts on “When Was the Last Time You Felt Really Happy?

  1. I love this post and the comments!! I feel so similarly about dots of happiness and am actively trying to stop and absorb them. With 3 young boys (nearly 6, nearly 4 and 14 months) life can be chaotic. I find my happiness often comes from alone time with a child or with my husband after bedtime sitting on our patio (oh the joy of a yard!!) in our cozy Adirondacks with a large glass of wine. The relaxation at the end of the day, the knowledge that I have done my chores and even prepared for tomorrow (prepped the coffee, filled the mills, set out the cereal!) my happiness now is so different than it was!

    Also time with my mom friends can bring me such comfort and joy. What a season!

    1. Yes, so true — “what a season!” All the little moments you just mentioned gave me all the feels. End of day glass of wine with the husband on the patio = so amazing.


  2. So much wisdom in this post, as well as in the comments from the other readers below.

    This was such a great prompt, as I found myself thinking about how my mind constantly tries to anticipate The Next Thing — I think other parents/caretakers can relate?! Whether it’s anticipating and trying to prevent my 3 year old’s tantrum (Is she going to be hungry soon? Is she getting overstimulated? etc), thinking about kindergarten now that she’s in preschool (!!), reviewing our previous meals to help me decide on the next one so that she has a balance and variety throughout the week, looking ahead to scheduling the next wellness appointments for everyone with enough time in advance so we’re not in a scheduling crunch, etc etc etc. This really dawned on me when we drove to the coast one day and I was sitting on the sand, watching my daughter run from the waves with my husband, and I was already brainstorming a creative exit strategy that would potentially prevent a meltdown (she struggles with abrupt changes in activity). I really could have enjoyed my time more had I been more present to witness the joy that was right in front of me.

    I’m mulling over that phrase “position of receptivity” when neither sad nor happy…I agree with what others have said about having a full range of emotions; it doesn’t have to be one end of the spectrum or another necessarily but rather anywhere in the middle/in neutral, but still the openness is still there.

    Love your “mama-Emu day” — my daughter and I have something similar, as we designated Monday afternoons after school pick-up to be our mama and daughter date. I think it has helped shake off the Monday blues for both of us!

    1. Hi Mia! Oh man I so relate to “The Next Thing” headspace! I am always thinking ten steps ahead, and often of permutations of what might happen, and then anticipating those permutations, too. The upside is that I am rarely surprised or unprepared, especially when it comes to what the children might need. The downside is…just what you cited. So hard to stay in the moment! I do think the first step is just being aware that we have this tendency and attempting to recognize and push away those thoughts in the moment, whenever possible. Landon took up meditation over the pandemic and that was the main takeaway for him — learning how to acknowledge and dismiss thoughts/interruptions/anxieties when they materialize to make space for what matters. I think this applies in a certain sense to “the next thing” mindset!


  3. I love this post, and per usual, it has me thinking! My knee-jerk response was that my happiest recent moments have been reunions with my family — holding my infant nephew, chasing after my toddler nieces barefoot in the grass of the lawn at my childhood home, and hugging and kissing my parents after so many months apart. But then, your framing of happy moments as “little dots along the seams of the day”, or as slivers of joy, have me resolute to try and find those golden moments in the day-to-day … cuddling with my stepdaughter, who still requests a nightly cuddle even as she’s about to enter middle school (!), the way my stepson gives me random hugs for no reason, and all of the little kindnesses that my partner undertakes in the name of love. I love Elizabeth’s “grateful – grateful – grateful” mantra and would do well to adopt that myself!

    P.S. I am fully onboard the clog train! I have 2 pairs of No. 6 clog boots (one classic buckle pair, one with shearling lining) and the former is definitely worse for the wear after 8 years of ownership (!) I would love to get a pair of classic slip-on clogs, though, and will be looking to either No. 6 or to Sven (who manufacture No. 6’s clogs, I believe, and sell some on their own website!) That mid-heel height is where it’s at for me! I’ve experimented with a bunch over the years, but I find the mid-heel to be the best mix of comfort + attractiveness.

    P.P.S. I LOVE the AYR French Fry tee! I have the French toast and Piano color ways and get so much wear out of them … I just wore the Piano one earlier this week on a chillyish day!


    1. Hi MK! Totally agree that my happiest moments are with loved ones, in those little sunny moments. Someone else wrote recently (in response to living in limbo during a move) that as long as you have your loved ones and a roof over your head, you’re good. It’s so true. Loved ones + feeling of stability = happiness-making.

      Thanks for the AYR upvote! Such good colors!


  4. This is so timely for me! I am in therapy recovering from post partum depression and just last week I was telling my therapist “I am feeling more and more dots of happiness throughout my days so hopefully soon it’ll be continuous throughout the day!” and she replied “is that realistic though?” We talked together about how a continuous, seamless, burst of happiness throughout the day probably is indeed *not* realistic for anyone, and those sweet little glimpses of pure happiness are made all the more special surrounded by a full range of emotion that we as humans are subject to during the course of any day. A sweet moment with my son is all the more special and noticeable.

    1. Hi Kate! Thank you so much for sharing this so candidly. Great timing for me to hear you come to a similar conclusion! I love the way you phrased this: “those sweet little glimpses of pure happiness are made all the more special surrounded by a full range of emotion that we as humans are subject to during the course of any day.” So true, and I appreciate the reminder that we live our lives “with a full range of emotion.” We don’t need to feel any one way all the time, or any amount of time throughout the day. Just let it flow. “No feeling is final.”


    2. That is so, so wise and true, Kate… I’ll be thinking of this for a while. Thank you for sharing.

      From one recovering mama to another — sending healing vibes your way.

  5. This is so interesting and makes me think of how our expectations vs our reality influence our (or maybe just my!?) happiness so heavily. If I expect to feel happy all day every day, and I experience “just” those slivers of moments like you mention, I might feel disappointed, and therefore not happy. But then I would miss those magical moments! I have learned to expect, and even appreciate, the way life can be “both/and.” I can have stretches of being overwhelmed or even bored by taking care of my children, my home, work, etc etc, but also feel so fulfilled by those moments that leave me truly in awe.

    I’ll be thinking about this one!

    1. So many great insights here, M. I agree on the expectation front, and your note about having “stretches of being overwhelmed or even bored by taking care of my children, my home, work, etc” truly resonated. I have felt guilt about that in the past! Thanks for sharing this.


    2. Love this, M — so agree with you on the “both/and” rather than “either/or” mindset. It was one of the most helpful things I learned from my therapist!

  6. I know I’m experiencing a moment (or period) of true happiness when I hear the repetition of ‘grateful-grateful-grateful’ flashing through my mind. It is not a harassing –you better enjoy this moment — but more just a recognition of, as you put it, “this is good, God is good.”

    1. Oh, I love this, Elizabeth. Great mnemonic to pull yourself out and issue a little note of gratitude!


    1. Oh gosh, this gave me all the feels. Such a special moment and memory :). Thinking of you!


  7. I’ve always liked the quote – ‘ And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” – Kurt Vonnegut

    Little moments of happiness, fully acknowledged, can be sustenance. 🙂

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