Your Happy List – Staying Positive During Recuperation

When things in my life get a little dark, working on my Happy List keeps me going, even on my worst day. It is  my source of inspiration and motivation. It goes everywhere with me; is the source of my positive attitude and gets me out of bed in the morning.

It encompasses all of the best things I have and am grateful for in my life, along with all of the things I want to do. These things make me happy; whether I’m thinking about them, remembering them or planning for them.

If you don’t have one, you need one.

Recuperating from an illness or injury is a great opportunity to take stock of your life and your desires. Odds are that you will have far too much time to think anyway, so you might as well make it productive.

What makes you happy; what have you always wanted to do?  Why are your favorite memories favorites? Think of all the things that you would bring the most meaning to your life. 

How to Brainstorm

Sit down with several sheets of paper or a notebook. You are going to write down everything you can think of, don’t edit yourself and decide that a thought is not worthy. Write down the bare minimum of information required to remember the thought later. It does not need to be perfect or detailed, it just needs to be memorable.

Scribble, doodle, write and draw. Don’t worry about how it looks, just keep going. The most important thing at this stage is quantity, not quality. Write down everything you can think of.

Make them big, small, expensive, cheap, simple, complex, fun or serious.

Start with your past

Write down all of your favorite memories. What have you done in your life that you want to always remember? Your first love? Your backpacking trip after high school? Being written up in the local newspaper? Or that first paycheck? The day your child was born? Maybe it was a perfect day; or one that turned around so wonderfully, you never want to forget.

Write them down; a phrase, a paragraph or a word, whatever you need so that you will remember it next time you read this list. What made these moments so special? Can you remember what you felt? These are powerful triggers to feeling good. Putting yourself back in those moments and remembering the details can leave you swamped with good feelings.

Next think about your present

What are you grateful for? Your home, your job, your partner? No matter what is happening in your life, no matter how difficult it may be, there are always things to be grateful for. Inventory them, all of them. If you fail to recognize what is best in your life, you can lose it on the way to your dreams.

Do not forget to put all of your special people on your list. Loved ones, friends and idols all belong in there somewhere.

Finish with your dreams

Now, start adding your dreams. Not just the obvious ones: promotions, trips, retirement. What about the silly ones? Marathon watch the Lord of the Rings movies in one weekend, or all 9 Star Wars movies. (Yes, I am a geek.)

Keep adding to the list until it becomes difficult. Your list needs to be at least 101 items; this will force you to think of your less obvious items.  If you are very prolific, then strive for 500 items.

Think back to childhood, what did you dream about at 10 years old that you might still find fun? Did you want to try the ice cream mountain sundae at your local parlor? Did you want to go down the big slide at the water-park?

Dream big too. What would you do with a million dollars, what about 10 million? Write these things down as well. True, you might never do them, but then again, you might.

You are going to have to really stretch your imagination to finish this list. Do not be limited by time or resources yet.

  • Foods To Try – Eat a buffalo burger; Chocolate fondue
  • New Skills To Acquire – Cook a five course meal; Learn Spanish
  • Fitness Goals – Run a marathon; Take a yoga class
  • Travel – Go on Safari; See Machu Picchu
  • Experiences – Drive Highway 69; Go skinny dipping? Host a family reunion
  • Career – Try a new career
  • Witness – See Aurora Borealis; Go to Mardi Gras

Play with your list

Now you have pages of scribbles, notes and doodles. For some people that may be enough. You can tuck those pages away and use them when you need them.

For most of us, a tidier list is preferred. So time to clean it up and make it work for you. I recommend a small notebook, or a computer file. Organize your list into memories, your gratitude list and your dream list.


Look for ways to leverage those memories for a rainy day. Can you make a scrapbook or a journal, maybe a little slide show for your cell phone that will make your feel good when you are blue?

If you are home recuperating, this can be an excellent source of inspiration and good feeling. Capturing the sights, sounds, smells and feelings can be very uplifting and can even cause you to be more optimistic.

Read: How nostalgia is good for you

So, make a list of nostalgia projects you can work on that make you feel good.

  • Fill a memory box full of prized mementos. Fill a notebook with their significance to share with friends and family.
  • Write a journal of your favorite memories to be reread when you are blue.
  • Create a scrapbook. Use stock pictures or drawings if you don’t have photos of your own. You can see it in your minds eye anyway.
  • Make a charm bracelet or necklace that tells a story and reminds you whenever you look at it.
  • Make a slide show for your computer or cell phone that you can flip through.


Your gratitude list is probably the most important. How can you best take care of those things and enjoy them? This is where your gold is. Make sure these things are a priority. They are the source of most of your happiness and will likely bring more if carefully maintained.

Read: 7 Surprising Health Benefits of Gratitude

Make this list beautiful and meaningful. When you are having those days where you wonder if you can go on, if you can make it through, bring that list out and remind yourself why you do it. Why it is all worth it. Sometimes the smallest thing will give you a reason to keep fighting when you think you have nothing left.

And find ways to enjoy these things more. On a bad day, make plans to enjoy them more in the future as well:

  • Find ways to let loved ones know how much you appreciate them. Schedule a phone call with an old friend or rediscover the lost art of letter writing or email.
  • Find ways to nest into your space a little more. Clean something or hire someone to clean something. Or create a nook you can settle into when you don’t feel good. Turn your bedroom into a retreat.
  • Start a family tradition. Game night, movie night or story hour all can work. Find low key ways to spend time together that you can manage.
  • Schedule some time for that hobby every week or month. As busy as we all are, we need to make time for the things that bring us joy.


Now you have a long and varied list of items to choose from. Go through the list and label the dreams with symbols such as the following: $ – investment required, T – time required, Q – quick and easy, add any others that are important to you, such as needing a companion, etc…

Going through the dream list and making it meaningful is a big project on it’s own.

Do Some Now

Look at the items that you can do now, the ones that are mostly time consuming; one of the problems with recuperation can be having too much time on your hands. Maybe this is a good time to learn French. You might not get this much down time again for a long time.

Next, select the ones that are relatively easy, such as trying new foods. Try to tackle one of these a week or one a month. Most of the time, the only reason we don’t do these is because we don’t make them a priority. This can be a fun and easy way to break up the monotony when routines get you down.

Start Planning ahead

Next, look at the pricey ones. How much would that thing cost? Can you find out? Is it too expensive or is there a way that it is achievable for you? If you have always wanted to own a sports car, maybe you would enjoy renting one for the day? How many coffees or dinners out would you have to give up to pay for that dream vacation? Would it be worth it?

Which ones are most important to you? Can you make them happen in the next few years? If they are large goals, break them down. If you want to go on Safari, you can look up trip options; find out what is required, and how much time and money you need. Once you know what is involved, you can set up a savings plan and start working towards a date.

Planning and anticipation bring hope and joy to your life; don’t under estimate how uplifting and healing this activity can be.

Read: How Anticipation Can Be Beneficial

Why you need a list

Life is busy, and short. Time flies when we are living our day-to-day. However, if you do not have something that you want to do top of mind, you will take your time doing things that are convenient or routine. For example, the last time you went out to dinner, you probably went somewhere nearby or familiar. If you had thought about the fact that eating alligator is on your list, you may have located a restaurant that serves that instead.

Once you know what is important to you and what you want to do, you can prioritize your activities. You can probably find a couple of hours a week and a few dollars to work on some things that are important to you. If family time is most important, maybe scheduling a night for everyone to be together needs to be priority one. 

Right now you are having some forced down time. So do some research and planning. Think about using your lunch hour to work on your novel, or take an hour right before bed twice a week to learn to play the guitar. Start packing a lunch and save up for that trip to Hawaii; if it is high on your list, then it’s worth it, even if it takes ten years.

Never finish your list

Anticipation, remembering and dreaming are all important parts of happiness. You should always have something to look forward too. Dreaming should not be about doing everything on your list, but about enjoying as much of your life as you can.

Every time you move something from your dream list to your nostalgia one, add 2 more to the dreams. It won’t be hard. The more you try, the more you want to try, just as the more you learn, the less you know.

And be crazy and silly. Try every one of the 31 flavors, and take pictures and make notes and remember them all.

The world is a crazy, fascinating place full of things you never thought of. Get out there and find out what you never knew.

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