The Happiness Project

Why I Now Own a Set of Four Heart-Shaped Placemats

Three of my favorite happiness-project resolutions are: Take time for projects , be a treasure house of happy memories , and “appreciate the seasons and this time of life.”

A great way to combine all three of these resolutions is to observe family traditions, and as one new tradition (oxymoron?), I’ve started planning holiday breakfasts . I copied this idea from a friend after I saw how she’d set the table for her Valentine’s Day breakfast last year, and I’ve been doing it for holidays ever since.

For birthdays, I have a special cupcake plate, a special candle, and a big banner. For Halloween, I have special plates, special pumpkin candles, and those window-gel decorations that stick on windows and mirrors, and I dyed the peanut butter black. (My daughters eat peanut butter on toast for breakfast.) Etc.

This weekend marked my first Valentine’s breakfast. I put out special placemats and heart-shaped plates, cut the toast into heart shapes and dyed the peanut-butter red, put heart decorations on the window, scattered a few Sweethearts candies around the table, and gave each girl a pack of Valentine’s Day-themed stickers.

Now, like most traditions, this was a bit of a pain. I had to make sure I had some decorations. (Next year, I’ll just reuse what I bought this year.) I had to wait until the girls went to sleep to set the table—at a time when I felt like collapsing myself. I had to premix the peanut butter the night before.

But the preparations weren’t very onerous, and it was a lot of fun the next morning. One of the nice things about kids is that it doesn’t take much for them to feel like something is “special,” so even a simple tradition is very gratifying.

If I didn’t have kids, I’d try to find some other way to celebrate the holidays. These kinds of traditions mark the passage of time in a pleasant way and add a note of festivity to everyday life.

Also, the major holidays can become a lot of work. It’s nice to celebrate in a very manageable way.

* On the subject of Sweethearts candy, Reader’s Digest compiled a list of the last 10 years’ worth of sayings . Who knew they ever changed?

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just e-mail me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.