Alina’s Thanksgiving Happiness Experiment.

A combination of Carol Shields, Iris Murdoch, the perpetually-improving-house, and the embarrassing gluttony of Thanksgiving left me pondering happiness today. Happiness in the backyard with birds warbling and chirping- the happiness of being absolutely peripheral for a few chunks of time in which my actions or stares have no meaning to the living creatures around me.

Now that we’ve mastered the ability to obliterate the planet, what does “happiness” or “sadness” mean in context? How does post-nuclear man experience joy? And how is this experience related to his/her power over the world around them? For example, is the modern version of happiness that feeling you get when you find a great Groupon or sale at your favorite store?

I’m going to take a microscopic look at my experiences of happiness on this Thanksgiving Day. I want a close-up of what makes me tick in the hopes of unraveling a little more of who I am and what I should be doing with this beautiful gift of a life.


List ten moments- with description- in which you have felt joy or true happiness during the past few weeks. If you can’t think of ten, leave them blank. Only include happiness; don’t get sidetracked by pleasure, satisfaction, or mere accomplishment. Then ask your partner, best friend, family members, or loved ones to list ten such moments for themselves in the past few weeks. Don’t show them your list.

Now compare and see if any happy experiences were shared. Did you and others tend to feel these moments more when alone or in the company of others? What characterizes these experiences? Were they planned? Did they have spiritual components? Was an experience of the sacred involved? Journal your thoughts on your happiness. Savor it and be grateful for it.

Alina’s Thanksgiving Happiness Experiment (PDF)



  1. Earlier this week, we took the kids for a tromp through the woods at an hour when everyone should have been asleep. We brought a few flashlights and crawled through thickets, shrubs, and tree limbs which looked like lace against the night sky. It was beautiful. We had nowhere to be- the little ones loved it- and we got all those secret vitamins I think must be reflected in moonlight and the scent of autumn nights. I was just plain happy.
  2. Seeing what Amy and Josalyn brought for Carla’s baby shower- and seeing how much they wanted to help and how easily they give. It made me feel happy and somehow lighter.
  3. Carla’s baby shower pleasing Carla- to give gifts that bring smiles and make it feel as if we still do have those tiny little powers to share our hearts with others. The magnificence of love.
  4. Patrick’s recent bonfires and the way the shadows of smiles flicker across the faces of my family. Happiness in just being and just being together.
  5. Waking up and going for a walk with Mary (though it’s been too long). Beating the kids to the day and just chatting about everything from neighborhood militias, sewing projects, and loving our husbands and children.
  6. Seeing Patrick return from a night out with Dan glowing. Happiness in knowing my husband connected with a friend and walked the journey of life with someone for a breath of time.
  7. Patrick’s wedding ring on his hands on his hips. The only jewelry he wears. The only adornment. Our simple silver wedding rings which cost less than $100 but will never be “upgraded” to a metal that costs more to lose. The happiness of agreeing on a shared future.
  8. Watching Milla care for her dolls so very carefully. The happiness of seeing love reflected in the actions of others.
  9. Watching Micah care for Milla so very carefully. Milla’s head in Micah’s lap as Micah strokes her hair and my mom says, “You used to do the exact same thing to Carla. She loved to put her head in your lap and you would smooth her hair.” Happiness in the continuity of tenderness, a hopeful legacy.
  10. Simply sitting in the perfect weather with the perfect leaves and the perfect colors and the beauty that does not require my hands or upkeep to remain eternally just so.


  1. Today when you were gone, the kids were all outside and I watched them from the window as Max gently pushed Micah and Milla in the swing. I was thankful to you for homeschooling the kids and making them such a tight-knit family and I realized that not every child gets this, which made me grateful for your persistence and determination. So this happiness was like a thick gratefulness that started with a small observation of love and tenderness between our kids.
  2. Watching a movie with you last night, in and out of sleep, but touching.
  3. Holding you. When you want to be held.

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