The Happiness Check

I received a milestone-birthday gift from a dear, longtime friend. It was a generous monetary gift that came with a caveat: I must spend it on myself. No college tuition help, no car repair, no electric bill—I had to spend it on something that made me happy

As I get older, the things that make me happy usually aren’t things at all. My happiness comes from my college-age daughters, who amaze and inspire me. From my friends, my pets and my volunteer work. From reading fiction. So this gift really made me stop to think about actually buying some happiness.

I thought about a spa day or a makeover, a treat I received when I turned 35. I went to Elizabeth Arden in Manhattan. I was the youngest client by a long shot, so maybe it would be more age-appropriate today. My next inclination was to spend the money on a couple of sumptuous restaurant meals that are far, far out of my normal budget, but after deliberation, that left me more hungry than inspired. I decided that the pampering and fancy dinners were just too fleeting to warrant my just-for-me money.

For the last decade or so, since I’ve been widowed, discretionary money has been elusive. I raised my two girls with few of the luxuries our friends enjoyed. And while no one went to bed hungry, other areas suffered, home upkeep being one of them. The house is in need of some attention, yet gutter repair would hardly make me happy. But fixing up the interior? Well, yes, that would fit the bill. Could I actually make my Pinterest home boards come to life?

I know what will make me happy, and that is transforming the too-busy-to-care home into one that will welcome a friend for a cup of tea or a meal to share. Because along with the milestone birthday, I’m entering a new phase of my life: my younger daughter is heading to college, leaving me an empty nester. Letting go of being the hands-on mom and being relegated to mom-from-afar is sad, scary and thrilling. The girls think I could end up isolated or, more likely, filling the house with cats. But I know better.

There’s much to be done now that I have the goal in my mind. I’ll start with a closet cleaning and purge some accumulated clutter. Once the decks have been cleared, I’ll have a better picture of what needs to be done. Maybe I’ll start by sprucing up my bedding or recovering a chair.

I’m already happy, and I haven’t spent a dime.