An empty “pole position” space at a red light is one of the things that makes the author happy. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

An empty “pole position” space at a red light is one of the things that makes the author happy. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Gimme a Smile: Little things that make me happy

Sometimes it’s the small things that bring the greatest happiness. Here are some little things that make me happy:

• A cup of coffee in the morning. I enjoy the full sensory experience here. The scent of a rich cup of brew and the sight of my daughter’s painting of a steaming mug of coffee make me happy, even before I savor the warmth and flavor of a hot cup.

• Twittering. Not the social media platform, but the twittering of birds on my back porch. Those birds don’t know what an algorithm is and neither do I, but they have perfected the art of patterns, that foundational aspect of mathematics that children learn in kindergarten. Bird song patterns always bring a smile to my face.

• The sight of a clean kitchen counter. I’m not necessarily a tidy housekeeper. I can tolerate a super-sized helping of clutter and chaos in my household. But sometimes I do like to have everything cleaned up. I savor that moment when all the dishes are washed and put away. It only lasts a moment, of course, until the next dirty dish comes along. “Don’t put that dirty bowl there — I just finished doing the dishes!” I can’t get too hung up on “clean,” because I know it won’t last.

• The sound of whistling. As a mom, my dearest wish is to see my kids happy and doing well. Let’s assume that people whistle when they’re feeling good (unless they’re sending a signal for some nefarious nighttime deed, but that’s another story). When I hear my children whistling, I know they’re okay. I, personally, cannot whistle. A tuneless toot is all I can manage, and if I try too hard, I risk hyperventilating. So, a healthy helping of maternal pride and admiration always accompanies my pleasure at the sound of my kids whistling.

• Taking out the trash. There’s a fine line between being a packrat and being a hoarder. Check the number of clean yogurt containers you’ve saved to store leftovers, or the height of your old newspaper piles in the garage. I am a card-carrying packrat who secretly fears crossing the line into the darkness of hoarding. So it’s always good for my soul when I manage to get things out of my house. Even if it’s actual trash that I’m discarding, it feels like an accomplishment — like I’ve escaped hoarderdom for one more day.

• Stopping at a red light. I am a very conservative driver (please don’t use that word to describe other aspects of my life). I drive five miles over the speed limit, signal to change lanes and fill up on gas when it gets below three-quarters of a tank. Still, there are low-risk ways for a careful driver to amuse herself at a red light which don’t involve a Tik Tok challenge. At the light, I stop well behind the car in front of me. Then I close the gap, one eye on the cars behind me. Will they pull forward too? They always do. I feel so powerful! But if I’m first…ah first! Then when the light turns green, I floor it. In my ten-year-old Subaru Outback looking like a soccer mom, I’m miles ahead of everyone else, racing down the road. I slow down when I reach sixty, letting the sporty cars behind me catch up. But for one brief, shining moment I’m the fastest one on the road, even if I am going the speed limit.

• Getting a question right on Jeopardy that all three contestants miss. I love that feeling of satisfaction that comes with knowing an obscure, trivial fact that three super-smart trivia masters don’t. I can’t resist calling out the correct response, repeating it insistently as if the contestants can hear me and blurt out the right answer in time to beat the buzzer.

So, the dishes are done and the trash goes out tonight. I have time to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and listen to the birds sing while watching an episode of Jeopardy. If I’m lucky, my son will start to whistle. It’s all about the small things.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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