I’ve Got Eleven to Start

Yesterday my friend Mark Schaefer wrote about his personal eleven secrets to a happy and productive life. I felt so inspired I couldn’t finish my breakfast without scribbling some personal notes and generating my own list. I asked myself: Is there something I do consistently in my life that contributes to my personal happiness and the peace I feel in my heart? Thank you for indulging me by reading something so personal.

Keep a Happy List. One month after I graduated from college, I moved to Rostov, Russia for a year and a half to serve a full-time mission for my church. I was 21, living on the other side of the world, learning a new language, embracing a new culture, and falling in love with the most amazing people. As exciting as that was – I also didn’t know if I’d have running water every night, among other challenges! That’s when the Happy List was born. I challenged myself to take a daily inventory, and write down at least one positive thing from that day before I went to bed. It is truly amazing to me how after all these years, I can still read my original list and feel a surge of happy emotions. What better place to turn on a down day than to your own personal pick-me-up reminder that the sun will come out tomorrow?

Read for fun. Read out loud. Read together. I was the child with the flashlight underneath my pillow, reading into the night when I was supposed to be asleep. Thank you, Mom, for not minding. I want to be sure I continue to challenge my intellect, while giving myself permission to fly with Peter Pan or survive in the Belgian Congo. I love to read Dr. Seuss out loud. Some things are just meant to be heard, not seen. My daughter and I love reading together and I have made it a practice to continue reading to her – even though she is completely capable of reading to herself. And, yes, Lindsay, I know you read at night when you’re supposed to be asleep, but I don’t mind, either.

Adopt a cause and serve with purpose. Years ago I was taught we should serve at our earliest inconvenience. That has always stuck with me. Each of us has certain causes about which we are passionate. Mine happen to revolve around children.

  • I spent the final four months of my pregnancy on bed rest, and because of the March of Dimes, was able to deliver a healthy full-term baby twelve years ago. Not enough are so fortunate. I have been involved on the steering committee for our local March of Dimes Chefs Auction for many years, and this year am chairing the committee.
  • I can honestly say that St Jude’s is a sacred place and full of more hope than I thought possible, and I am grateful for all they share and give back. Lindsay and I collect for their noble cause each year for her birthday.
  • I also was privileged to spend Christmas 2009 in Jaibon, Dominican Republic, volunteering with the wonderful folks of Orphanage Outreach, and look forward to many years of serving others for the holidays.

I truly believe it is through our service to others that we serve God. How else can we possibly thank him for all that he provides us? So I hope my small contributions – whether of time, or talent, or financial support make a difference.

Smile often and laugh lots. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a friend I had not seen in many years. His message simply said, “You crossed my mind today and I could hear your laugh and it made me smile.” I want to be sure I communicate joy and happiness whenever possible.

I have my own personal fan club. My support network stretches from Seattle to Wilmington to Salt Lake City to Rostov to Dallas to Niceville to New York City to Toronto and back here to Greensboro, with many points in between. Making a concerted effort to surround myself with friends and family who love and support me is essential. You know who you are, and I love you back.

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least” (Goethe). I was counseled as a teenager to keep my priorities in perspective. I still need to do that. It is easy to get caught up in life and be so busy that I get my priorities out of whack. I take deep breaths, usually get a loving reminder from someone in my fan club – and I’m back on track.

Enjoy being a mother. When I got divorced nine years ago, I made a conscious decision to maintain my status as a mother to my daughter. Many in similar situations try to balance both parental roles so their child will what? Not feel cheated? Nah. I just want to be the best mom I can to my daughter, and we’ll figure out the rest later. Nothing is more precious to me than holding hands with my girl, as I realize how much I have loved every age and every stage and I adore the young woman she is becoming.

Dance. Never ask whether, just where. The answer is always yes.

If you want to take a listen, here is my personal theme song:

She Just Wants to Dance

Respect others and show empathy. I once heard if we could put our trials into a hat and choose back any trial we want; we would always choose our original submissions. People come from all walks of life and from a myriad of circumstances. It is not my place to judge, nor is it my place to assume anything. It is my goal to always treat others the way I want to be treated, and to look through their lenses when mine seem out of focus. So I will continue to seek first to understand, then to be understood. It definitely works better that way.

Listen to my body. I have to listen to what my body tells me. This might mean getting more rest, making changes in my diet, going for a bike ride, or simply sitting outside and breathing deeply – I pay attention to what my body says it needs. When I am in tune with myself – when my heart and my head communicate with one another – is when I am at peace.

Believe in God. Trust. Exercise faith. He has never let me down – left me wondering and questioning at times, yes – but never let me down. I always come back to the core values my parents taught me as a child: God lives. Jesus Christ is my savior. I am a child of God and He loves me. No matter what else comes my way, being grounded in this personal testimony is a constant in my life. Peace, hope and happiness come from this source and I am grateful for this knowledge.

These are my first eleven, but there are more. I can’t wait to hear about yours and perhaps you’ll be inspired to write your own list.


  1. Jamie Lindsay says

    Your post was just what the Dr. ordered for me! When I was a little girl and into my teens, I would always have a happy list at my fingertips to remind me of the good things in my life. It’s so easy to forget about the things that make me truely happy and blessed in my life. So many times a day I complain and am focused on my negative energy rather than the positive. Thank you for the reminder to remember the good, forget about the bad and to be happy – because I am truely blessed!

  2. says

    @Mark – Thank you for YOUR inspiration to write the post in the first place! I’m going to count this as our first collaboration, even though it wasn’t. :-)

    @Jamie – I’m glad your prescription was filled when you needed it. Glinda sings “Happy is what happens when all your dreams come true.” You’ve got a dreamy life and I love you!

  3. says

    I hope Mark doesn’t get jealous because I’m commenting on your blog instead of his (even though his led me here :) I love your post, especially smile often and laugh lots. One of my heroes, Mother Teresa, said it well, “Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” In her writings, she used to capitalize the word Smile because she believed it was something sacred and holy. Finally, just Google ‘health benefits of smiling’ for a plethora of articles. :)

  4. says

    @Mike – I feel confident Mark doesn’t mind at all you landing here with your comments; I know I’m delighted you visited! Thank you for sharing the Mother Teresa quote; she’s one of my heroes, too.

  5. says

    This post is a great reminder / motivator. I kept a gratitude journal (thanks to Oprah) during a really rough time in my life. It challenged me think of 10 things I was thankful for everyday -often when 10 seemed like a big number.

    What was really great is that I did manage to come up with 10 everyday (easy when you’re a mom with 2 incredible sons). But the best thing about the exercise was that I began noticing all the wonders in my life as they happened. I needed to notice so I could record them at the end of the day!

    And so the good things began to stand out. They no longer flashed by unnoticed. Amazingly, the universe offers so much everyday no matter who or where we are.

    Personally, I can assure everyone, I am truly blessed.

  6. says

    @Karen – Thank you for sharing your personal experience. Yes, the universe truly does offer so much to each of us, and we are each richly blessed.

  7. says

    You truly are an inspiration (just read this list again). And as it’s Lindsay’s birthday today, I hope it’s a great one. In fact, I know it will be!

    Hope to see you soon,

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