I’m a pretty cheerful person. I work at it. Each morning, I write a page of things – small, ordinary things – that I am grateful for. I have a list of “the happiest words in the English language” and I make an effort to use them in conversation, and when writing letters. I have read Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, and try to incorporate her “10 daily practices for a happier life” into my days. I’m in the process of reading Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, which is providing insight about ordinary things – polka-dots, for instance – that tend to increase feelings of happiness.
I am known for my smile. I joke that it is an unavoidable side effect of working for forty years in customer service. I note that it helps to hide my sagging jowls. It also helps to smooth the rough edges of a conversation. The fact is, though, that I appreciate the friendly openness of a smiling face. It makes me feel good when someone smiles at me, so I make a point of smiling at others. It’s not hard, because it’s genuine. I like people, and I’m usually pretty happy.
There are times, though, when a smile doesn’t seem like enough. Now and then, I find myself to be outrageously happy. A broad grin stretches across my face, The dogs look at me strangely as I joyously laugh out loud in our normally quiet household. I can’t explain it. The events that might lead up to it are often scattered, minor, and unrelated. Not really anything that would be associated with wild joy. Still. Just like when the stars or planets quietly converge to create a major astrological event, small things work together to alter my mood.
Last week, it started with an appointment. One of the contractors and I had arranged to meet at a set day and time at my house. He was going to measure my kitchen and dining room windows, to give me a price on replacing them. That, alone, was reason to celebrate. The windows were already old, being taken out of someone else’s house for more up-to-date versions, when I bought them for my house. They’ve been in service here for more than twenty years.
The wood frames are rickety; the windows have always been difficult to open and close. Two (or maybe three) summers ago, I accidentally broke one of the panes out of the east-facing kitchen window. For every winter since then. a sheet of plexiglas (triple wrapped in bubble wrap and with the edges sealed with duct tape) has been the only thing keeping the cold outside. Doing a fair job, at best.
The north-facing dining room windows, that face a shady area under large maple trees, used to offer a lovely cool breeze in the summertime. It was well-worth the effort it took to wrestle them open, and prop them up. Unfortunately, when a crew came in to weatherize my house several years ago, the only way they saw to prevent the inevitable winter drafts, was to permanently seal them closed. So, they can no longer be opened in the warm weather. Spiders, however, have managed to get in to the space where I cannot, and have built elaborate webs between the panes of glass, spoiling my view.
I was thrilled to be, finally, moving toward a solution to the window problem. A visitor to my home, though, is a rare thing, and even more unusual during these Covid-conscious times. The last “company” I had was when my heat stove malfunctioned and needed repair. Without anyone to complain or judge, my home often reflects my lackadaisical attitude toward housework. With a contractor scheduled, things needed to improve!
The south-facing counter in the kitchen had a generous collection of junk mail, stuffed into empty cereal and pasta boxes, waiting to be burned. Beside it was a large bag filled with plastic, and another holding tin, aluminum, glass and other items for recycling. In front of all that was a single narrow strip of formica that had – weeks ago – come off the face of the counter, waiting to be fixed back in place. The stainless steel compost bin was nearly full, and had not been polished since I last had a visitor, I’m sure.
In the short hall that houses my laundry, along with the big trash can and one small laundry basket, there was a cardboard box filled with corrugated cardboard, also waiting to be recycled at our Transfer Station. The dryer had a collection of miscellaneous socks, scarves and rags on it, mixed with coins, pens and paper clips rescued from pockets, and all coated with a heavy layer of dust. The coat hooks were over-loaded with several fall sweaters and light jackets bulging out from underneath the winter coat I wear every day.
Suddenly, I was seeing everything – usually so easy to overlook – through someone else’s eyes. So, I whipped through the house, taking care of things I’d neglected for too long along with the regular weekly cleaning and tidying. Then, in the following days, I put a little polish on things: added a candle, cleaned out a drawer, shined a surface, until I felt like I was living in a brand new space.
Early afternoon, on a sunny winter day, the young man came, as planned. He measured windows, talked a little about timing, pricing and methods, and was gone. I still had the much-improved space, though. And the sunshine. And hope for new windows in the spring. Just like that, I was deliriously happy!