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The Happiness Files

How four people found peace

firstperson_virtualreality Photograph courtesy Flickr/unhinderedbytalent 

Return to Nature
The universe is visible in a patch of green

I start each day at the bedroom window, looking for the butterflies that float aloft like miniature stained-glass windows. Sleepily, I watch the light explode off the hummingbird’s copper feathers and listen for the mockingbird’s latest aria. My West L. A. backyard is a small plot that I’ve planted to fool the birds and insects into thinking they’re in some sort of chaparral jungle. When I’m able, I seek the company of the canyons not far from my house; there is no better aromatherapy than a grove of bay trees. From the soil to the sun, nature seeks equilibrium. The trees don’t judge the squirrels that coexist with the birds that have no quarrel with the wildflowers. The patient observer is rewarded by the cartoonish woodpecker popping out of its nest, the Gollum-like salamander slithering under a rock. It’s a gallery that changes with the seasons; the sycamore paints its leaves a pale mint in spring, beetle green in summer, squash gold in fall, and acorn brown in winter. When evening comes, I tune in to the crickets calling and scan the skies for the hunting owls. 


firstperson_virtualreality Photograph courtesy Flickr/

Virtual Reality
When a community dwindles, the Web steps up

A bit more than a year ago, I returned from a vacation in Paris and walked into the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, where I’d worked as a reporter for 20 years. Once newsrooms were active, bustling places. Now, armed with the kind of clarity that a week away can bring, I noticed what had been the case for months: After cutbacks and layoffs, the office—dotted with too many empty desks—was quiet. In that moment I knew I’d become a refugee. I just didn’t know where my refuge would be. That’s when I dropped my purse, whose contents spilled out all over the Times’s dingy carpet. Half a dozen postcards of Paris that I’d brought home stared up at me from the floor. Inside, I felt myself shift. I decided to create a blog, a space where I could express what I found true and beautiful. Fashion and interior design would mingle with postcards and my own Polaroids. It would be visual, mostly, but also wordy when I saw fit. Wondering what to call it, my mind struck on a tearoom in London, where not long before I’d sipped hot jasmine and read British magazines. I would call my blog the English Muse. What began as a creative outlet quickly became something else I recognized I needed even more: a haven of mutual interest, of fellowship. An initial audience of friends and family soon grew to include readers from around the world—Sweden and Lithuania, San Francisco and Sydney, South Pasadena and Tehran. Many of them told me that the English Muse was a refuge for them, too. Having lost one community, I’d discovered another. I’d found real happiness in a virtual place. 


firstperson_knit Photograph courtesy Flickr/mararie 

The Knitting Circle
There’s healing power in some yarn and two needles 
I recently met a woman who worries about being alone. Since her divorce, when her children visit their father, she finds the quiet unbearable. I told her something I hadn’t realized I knew: “Knitting helps with sitting.” I started knitting on 9/11. I’d always been crafty—ceramics, quilting, painting. But when I first picked up some needles after the towers fell, I found more than a hobby. Knitting is the best way I know to turn anxiety into beauty. It can also be oddly collaborative. A few years ago, when my mother was dying of cancer, my dad, sisters, and I spent weeks in hospital rooms, and my knitting—the colors, the soothing rhythm of the needles dancing over the yarn—was a salvation. During this time, I worked feverishly to finish a blanket for a baby shower. On the day of the event, my mom was having an unusually good morning. Reluctant to pull myself away, I skipped the shower and kept knitting as we talked and laughed. That blanket is a tangible reminder of one lovely day in an awful year; I couldn’t part with it. Now it is draped over a chair in my living room—a little something I created while sitting with the woman who created me. 


firstperson_pore Photograph courtesy Flickr/onehappysnappertryingtocatchup
Pore Me Another
A man and his beautician form an unlikely bond

No one has to tell me that saying “I love my facialist!” does little to boost my heterosexual credentials. As a man, I’m supposed to find bliss barrel-brining artisan pickles (I’ve tried) or learning the art of knot tying (I can mangle a crabber’s eye hitch). But facials give me peace. Why? Well, first a word about the FacePlace, where I’ve had monthly treatments for 15 years. The aestheticians there are not interested in the caviar-and-cucumber approach to skin care; no, they adopt more of a take-no-prisoners regimen with my pores: Steam ’em, squeeze ’em, and electrocute ’em. (OK, it’s low voltage, and it pulls nutrients into my face, but I’m still plugged into a wall socket for 20 minutes.) Afterward I feel like I’ve ear wrestled an angry sea urchin. My skin, however, has taken on that Robert Pattinson bobblehead glow. I know I’m no younger, no better a person. But for one hour this hard-core pampering has silenced those worries about global profiteers and my carbon soul-print. For one hour my thoughts have been skin deep. That alone is worth the price of admission. » 8701 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 310-855-1150