And I Think To Myself….

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Indeed, what a wonderful world. Louis Armstrong, with his caramelized soulful voice, and his priceless smile, reminds us of this simple notion like nobody else.

I should probably put a warning label on this post because “Satchmo-type optimism” tends to overtake me every January. I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s most likely because not only do I get to cartwheel with you into a fresh new calendar year, but I also get to put another candle on top my birthday cake (hopefully a decadent chocolate espresso mousse cake).

Yep, it’s my birthday week, and as you might have guessed, I’m a sucker for birthdays. After all, the alternative…well.…

I can think of no better way to celebrate than to dance in a rain of music.

Why music?

Because music makes me happy. Simple as that.

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It also makes me feel young, raucous and alive. No matter how many candles adorn my cake, the minute I blast The Beatles, U2 or Bruce Springsteen I’m twenty years old again (click on the links and hit the video play buttons if you’d like to feel that way too)!

Music moves me like no other artform.

It inspires, motivates me, and often leaves me in awe. It also makes me feel like I can be a better person. It reminds me that anything is possible, especially if I ignore all limitations I might place on myself.

If Aretha Franklin, who is anything but an opera singer, can bring me to tears with her jaw-dropping version of Nessun Dorma, then anything is possible.

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If Mick Jagger can still prance around the stage and rip it up with the boys when he’s now a senior citizen, why should anything stop the rest of us? It may not be pretty, but it’s still damn fun, and after all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Music is about setting ourselves free—it’s our anthem to create and to Imagine, just like John Lennon espoused so many years ago. And it’s often our call to action–to free ourselves from what we cannot tolerate–from war and racism to hatred, poverty and inequality.

Music is about possibility. It is about celebrating who we are, and where we’ve been. It’s storytelling in its most magnificent form, without restraint. Bob Dylan, whose lyrics defined a generation, is arguably one of the best storytellers of all time.

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Music also creates a time capsule of our lives, instantly taking us back to a time and place, or capturing a moment in which we are living right now.

I can recall every chapter of my life with music, and I bet you can too.

As a child, our house was filled with music–everything from Mom’s John Denver and Tom Jones to Dad’s George Benson and Herbie Hancock to my brother’s Beatles, Aerosmith, Led Zeplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Credence Clearwater Revival. And let’s not forget my tween years which reverberated with Peter Frampton, Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, the Beach Boys and god forbid, Shaun Cassidy.

Every wonderful and awkward moment got stuffed into that musical time capsule of mine.

High school was about Michael Jackson, AC/DC, the Go-Go’s and a plethora of 80’s crap created during the MTV revolution. And college? Any time I hear The Stones, U2, Talking Heads, Violent Femmes or Bob Marley, I’m immediately transported back to my dorm, remembering all the fun had with friends on more than one raucous occasion.

Just about every memorable moment of my life has been accompanied by music–from the first dance at our wedding to our dive into parenthood to road trips, concerts (of course), holidays, graduations, family memorials and numerous athletic adventures. It takes little more than a guitar riff or drum beat to bring it all right back.

But this is what I love most about music: music brings us together like nothing else. Because it crosses all boundaries, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, black, white or purple. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or where you’re going, music is about being in the present and sharing in a moment.

As I sign off from this post, I can think of nothing more this birthday girl would like to do than to thank all the talented musicians of the world for giving me (and all of you) one of the greatest gifts of all.

And also share one more for the road…Take it away, Sir Paul and friends

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PS: Thanks for indulging me. I’ll be back talking about photography in my next post. In the meantime, I’d love to know how music has impacted your life. What does your personal music time capsule sound like? Is it filled with Motown? Gospel? Opera? Beethoven? Or good old rock-n-roll?

A Bazillion Things That Make Me Happy and Grateful

This post started out simply enough; in the spirit of Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), I thought I’d share the top ten things that make me happy and grateful. Within a matter of minutes though, my list became enormous, quickly growing from 10 to 110, then, well…you can see what happened.

My peeps, of course, are what pack my heart most with gratitude…as do my dear friends and the fact that I’m healthy and still relatively fit. Most of all though, I’m grateful that I’m still grateful; that life still feels like an outrageous gift that is meant to be celebrated each day. That the magic has yet to fade. Here are a few more things that make me happy and grateful:

Teachers
Art
Hand-written letters
My husband’s cooking
Dining al fresco
Laughing until I cry
The view out my window
The way I feel after a long run
The smell of freshly ground coffee
Chocolate
Quiet moments
The feel and smell of a new book
Sand between my toes and hours at the beach
Learning to say, “What the hell, you only live once!” at a very early age
Random acts of kindness
Being surrounded by talented people
Books, books, and more books
Photography
Small world moments
Red licorice
Red wine
Paper stores
People who work hard at making a difference
The smell of eucalyptus trees
My daughter’s hugs
Knowing I can always stand on my own two feet
Levis
Butterfly kisses
Early mornings
Warm weather
Happy endings
Ideas
My three brothers
The Beatles
The blogging community
Writers whose words swirl into magic
Finding something I’m passionate about and diving in head first
Reading in bed on a Sunday morning
When the right words come to mind at the right time
Creativity
History
Old movies
Flip-flops
Globes
Long showers
The sound of rain
Sun streaming through my window when I write
Finding a perfect moment in each day
Quotes that inspire me
Lists
Cupcakes
A fire in the fireplace
Convertibles
Surprise parties
Airplanes that take me on new adventures
Discovering–new places, ideas, cultures, books, music
Neighbors
My daughter’s art
Roasting marshmallows
People with nice manners
When my husband brings me coffee in bed
Long meandering conversations with my BFF
Wrap around porches
Boogie boarding
Learning something new
Aspen
Typography
Real deal lemonade
Eye-crinkling smiles
The smell of Coppertone
Freshly baked bread
Helping somebody
The power of our imaginations
Getting smarter as I get older
Bubble baths
Margaritas
Grandparents
Old houses
Old friends
Popcorn
A bouquet of flowers-especially tulips
People who are working hard to find a cure for cancer
“A food”–almonds, artichokes asparagus and avocados
Watching my husband when he’s in his creative element
Book stores
Fall colors
Stuffing
HGTV
Designing cards
The internet, and what it offers
Friends who “get me” without any explanation
Birthdays and my favorite holidays: Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving
When people do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do
A good night’s sleep
Marathons
Picnics
Invitations
Journals
Time to myself
Time with my family
Iced lattes
Thesauruses
Chaise lounges
Matinees
True love
My laptop
Long summer nights
Backyard parties
Concerts
Belting out favorite old songs
Dancing in the kitchen with my husband
Hearing my daughter laugh from the belly
Having a fairly big extended family
The number 7
My inner drive
Fresh crisp sheets
A really great work-out
Vanilla milkshakes
Colors-anything but beige
Traveling
Slippers
Being outside
Charming accents
Magazines
Fitness
Sushi
CBS Sunday Morning
People who don’t know they’re funny
The way chocolate martinis and jazz go together
Seeing the lightbulb go off in my daughter’s head
Homemade chicken soup
The New York Times
Libraries
My Ipod shuffle
The bubbles in bubbly
Candlelight
Watching my daughter sleep
People who take a chance on you when it goes against reason
My gut instinct, which has steered me right most of the time
Watching an exquisite ballet performance
People with infectious enthusiasm
Cute old couples
Rose gardens
Photo albums
Dogs that look like mops
Finding something you thought was lost long ago
Living with no regrets
Reunions
Hummingbirds
Baby fat
Loyalty
Thursdays
Cookie dough
Cool postage stamps
Memories of my grandparents’ houses
The way my husband’s hand automatically goes up to his heart when he throws his head back in laughter
The cool breeze you feel when you sit next to a rushing river
Figuring something out all on my own
The passion of Pavarotti
The perfect writing pen
The improbable
Amazing Grace

What three things are you most grateful for (besides your wonderful friends, family and health)?

The Geography of Bliss

Geography of Bliss book cover photograph

As many of you may know, reading is one of my passions in life. Earlier this year I blissfully added another title to my ever-growing, eclectic list of favorite books — The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Place in the World.

In this funny travel memoir, Eric Weiner, veteran NPR foreign correspondent (and self-proclaimed grump), travels the globe intent on finding the happiest places on earth and discovering what makes them that way.

Using both the wisdom of ancient philosophers as well as the modern “science of happiness” to guide him, he spends a year journeying around the world. Starting in The Netherlands, Weiner tracks down Ruut Veenhoven, the proprietor of the World Database of Happiness and the godfather of happiness research. From there he ventures to Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India and back to the United States.

The Geography of Bliss is not only a fascinating travel memoir, but a funny exploration of the science, psychology, and geopolitics of happiness. It also offers a provocative perspective on what happiness is — and isn’t — and where we might find it. 

Wiener raises such questions as:

Porrait of author David Weiner“What if you lived in a country that was fabulously wealthy and no one paid taxes? What if you lived in a country where failure is an option? What if you lived in a country so democratic that you voted seven times a year? What if you lived in a country where excessive thinking is discouraged? Would you be happy then?”

Kirkus Reviews says, “…this wise, witty ramble reads like Paul Theroux channeling David Sedaris on a particularly good day.

As I romped through Weiner’s book, I couldn’t help but think about all the places Jeffrey has traveled in the world, wondering which countries he might think are the happiest.

While Jeffrey doesn’t have data from the World Database of Happiness to back up his conclusions, he was glad to compile a list of some of the happiest places he’s been to in the world. His findings are based purely on personal experience.

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Jeffrey’s Top Five Happiest Places in the World

1) Bhutan: Perhaps it’s Bhutan’s way of measuring its well-being–Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product–or perhaps it’s because Bhutan is a country mostly inhabited by devout Buddhists, but this Himalayan mountain kingdom is steeped in happiness. After working on assignment in Bhutan several times over the past two decades, Jeffrey, like Eric Weiner, ranks it as one of the happiest places on earth. “People seem content without possessions in this remote, landlocked country and find solitude away from the bright lights of nearby bustling civilizations,” Jeffrey says.

Photo of a monk teaching a child in Bhutan

Photo of women in Bhutan

Photo of Bhutan

2) Thailand: Weiner explains that Thailand is one of the happiest places in the world because its residents are taught not to over-think things. While most Americans agonize over every detail of life, Thais are much more relaxed. Jeffrey has been to Thailand too many times to count, and sees the Thais as “Content, confident, and strong people who have a relaxed approach to life.” He reminded me that Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that has never been colonized. Perhaps their independence has contributed to their inner happiness?

Photo of kid at the feet of a Buddha in Thailand

Photo of a monk wearing Ray Bans

Portrait of a Karen woman in Chaing Rai, Thailand

3) Ireland: It could be the melodic lilt of the Irish accent, or the ease with which Irish people smile, or perhaps how they genuinely enjoy helping others–whatever the case, the Emerald Isle ranks high on Jeffrey’s list of happy places. Let’s not forget the Guinness!

Photo of an musician in Doolin, Ireland

Photo of Dublin, Ireland

Photo of Stephens Green in Dublin, Ireland

4) Micronesia: This island chain dotting the Pacific Ocean just north of the Equator is home to people who enjoy a slow, simple life, warm weather, bountiful food, and a classic island lifestyle still devoid of hordes of tourists. No traffic jams, no deadlines…just happy, mellow people.

Photo of women in traditional dress in Truk, Micronesia

Photo of a fisherman in Micronesia

Aerial photograph of an island in Micronesia

Photo of Micronesia

5) Australia: Jeffrey has worked Down Under multiple times and each time he has been met with happy, active, and laid-back Aussies–particularly in Tasmania. “There seem to be few worries in Australia,” Jeffrey comments.

Photo of a vendor at Salamanca Market in Tasmania, Australia

Photo of a girl in Australia holding a koala

Photo of people swimming in a waterfall in Northern Territory, Australia

Photo of horseback riding in Victoria, Ausralia

In The Geography of Bliss, Weiner visits Moldova, which according to his research, is the unhappiest place on earth. By illustrating what makes Moldovans miserable he reinforces his findings about what makes other people happy–kind of like the Tibetan proverb, “Pain exists to measure pleasure.”

I’m not sure the happiness researchers ever polled people in North Korea though, which is Jeffrey’s number one pick for the unhappiest place on earth.

Photo of North Korean children

Photo of North Korea

Photo of North Korea

Here’s a challenge for you. Take a look at the list below which features many of the places Jeffrey has traveled, and see if you can guess which country he considers one of the saddest places in the world, but whose inhabitants are still some of the happiest people he’s ever met.

Antigua, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Chile, China, Christmas Island, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, East Timor, England, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Macau, Malaysia, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, North Korea, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand Tibet, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

Leave your answer in the comment section and find out the answer on Thursday! Also, I’d love to know YOUR IDEA of the happiest place on earth!