Green, Spring, & The Art of Being Happy

Do you ever look up from your life and think: I'm actually quite happy? Do you ever sit in the garden with a cup of tea, or sing along to a great song in the car, or walk along an autumn/spring street just as the trees are erupting into colour and realise, with a small shock, that life is actually really lovely?

I'm deeply ashamed to say I don't. Not as much as I should. I used to. I'm sure many of us did. Years ago, a good friend told me about CBT and The Art of Gratitude, so I used to practice both of them. Often. Running was another life enhancer. Walking too. (Especially in foreign cities such as Paris: there are few things as lovely as being a flâneuse.) But then my partner and I had a few challenging years. As many of us have had since the media and PS industries hit the proverbial wall...

It started when we bought a big, old, rundown house in the country, which ended up being inhabited by ghosts. (No, I didn't believe in them either, until last year). Then I became quite sick, then kept getting sicker, and nobody could figure out what was wrong. (I'm slowly getting better thankfully). And then the publishing market collapsed, and my publishers collapsed with it. (One of them, Murdoch Books, is even being sold as I write this.)

So I started writing a book about a famous Australian novel (above), which I discovered was cursed. Or, if not cursed, then certainly affected by its own haunting back story. (The story is too complicated to explain but it's incredibly sad.) We eventually sold the big old house and left the persistent ghosts behind. But the entire book industry, meanwhile, kept falling to its literary knees, and still hasn't been able to get back up again.

So, earlier this year, we made the decision to move to the US East Coast where I could perhaps have a better career, perhaps even start my own company, and my partner could have a better career in his industry, and we could buy 3 houses for the price of our Australian home! But then, realising our families needed us, we turned around from our NY reccy and came back again.

Then, to finish everything off in a truly fitting way, we realised that, by not moving to the US, our dreams of having children were probably quashed once and for all. (It would have been easier there, with adoption and surrogacy options, than here in Australia, where such things are impossible.)

I'm ashamed to say that I didn't think about happiness for a long, long, long time.

Until yesterday.

You know those days where everything falls into place, like a high-scoring Scrabble word? Well, this was such a day. It was glorious. I took the dogs for a long walk and realised I could at last breath again.

The scents of the spring hyacinths, apple blossoms and jasmine filled the air, and the soft morning light turned into the most golden day. Some parts of it were showery with spring rains, but other moments were warm and still. There was even a double-rainbow, which acted as a exclamation mark for a pretty sunshower that made our newly replanted hydrangeas perk up again.

I gave the dogs a bone each and sat down to finish editing the last chapters of The Book About The Cursed Novel, and realised it wasn't such a horrific story after all. I went out at lunch and bought an orchid, and a sports bra to go running again, then prepared some dinner for The Loved One. I also made significant progress on The Garden Tour Itinerary (which has been very, very difficult, but will be worth all the effort), and then sorted through 658 photos of Paris and New York for 2 lovely new books that we're about to begin work on. {Image of a Gramercy Park balcony from our faux honeymoon earlier this year: Oh, how I loved Gramercy Park. That was a glimpse of happiness, right there!}

At 5 o'clock, I went for another walk with the dogs, amid yet another sunshower, and ended up near the Botanic Gardens at dusk, which reminded me of this beautiful book (above). It was there, at the top of the hill that The Loved One found me, soaked through and grinning from ear to ear like some Jane Eyre-esque madwoman. Only without the attic. And the match. (He'd arrived home, realised we were out in the rain and come to find us in his car.)

"Hi honey," I said, as we all clambered into the 4WD, soaking wet. "Thanks for coming to collect me. I love you. Life's pretty wonderful, don't you think?"

He narrowed his eyes. "Have you done something you haven't told me about yet?" he said.

I know it's a cheesy thing, but sometimes you just need a bit of gratitude to enjoy life again, don't you think? Why is it that the old-fashioned remedies – a walk, a run, two dogs, some grass, a whiff of jasmine, a toss of a salad, a flick through photos of Paris – work far, far better than any modern therapy methods? I don't know. But I do know that that the old 'Halleluja Approach', as my grandma called it, is vastly underestimated.

{NB Here's K D Lang singing Leonard Cohen's Halleluja here – so beautiful, it will bring tears to your eyes.}

Here's another quick tale. I have a friend in the Bahamas who owns a famous and very beautiful hotel called The Landing, on Harbour Island. I'm helping her and her husband write a book. I may even publish it. One day, several years ago, her little sister, an extraordinary young lawyer who was highly respected in New York, went out running in SoHo. A guy started driving a truck backwards down a one-way street, while talking on his cell phone. The ladder perched precariously on the back of his truck struck her in the head. Just like that. She had no ID so she wasn't identified for several days. She was so respected that when the news leaked out, much of the New York legal community went into shock. Then this friend's father, a GP who by all accounts was another extraordinary soul, passed away. Then, just last week, I learned that her other sister, another remarkable person with a heart of gold, also died. The funeral is in Nassau this week. Hundreds are going. It's being planned as a enormous celebration of life. Which is just what it should be.

So this is what I advocate. Be grateful for the life you have. Even if it isn't quite what you imagined.

Here, to inspire you all on a Tuesday, are some glorious photos of green and spring growth. I'm sorry for the bad metaphor, but I couldn't think of nicer images to illustrate The Art of Happiness. Furthermore, I'm now officially engrossed in The Garden Tours, which are going to be wonderful, and so I thought a few horticultural images might make give us all a little spring in our step today. (Sorry, another bad metaphor!)

So if your career isn't going the way you want to, if your family life is getting on top of you, if your dreams have stalled and your life isn't unfolding quite how you planned, don't worry. Don't worry. Just be thankful anyway. It works. Trust me.

Wishing you all a truly lovely day.

(PS I've caught a cold from the rain yesterday but you don't need to hear that. It would have spoiled a good story!)

The spring windows of Peony, in Hawthorn. Jill always does a beautiful job of merchandising.

Joe's in Greenwich Village, New York. I remember this day in New York. It was sunny. All the cafes had opened their window and doors. Washington Square Park was full of happy dogs. It was a magical day.

The spectacular garden of the Delano Hotel in Miami. Gardening as only Miami can do.

A Marimekko tray from the spring range. Have you seen how Marimekko is coming back into fashion? The new store near the Flatiron building is eye-wateringly beautiful.

A bouquet with limes. Love this. Imagine the scent as you walked past?

Love this too. A design by Fulvio Bonevia, via Slim Paley. I love broccoli. Not sure I could do a handbag in it but this is still enchanting.

The parterre potager of a new friend, the always-delightful Bumble at Lynwood Farm, which can be found here, at this blog – here. Bumble's garden is truly amazing. Look at that trim job!


Photographs of the countryside by the talented Ben Pentreath. I love Ben's work, and not just his architecture and design. He's a skilled writer and photographer, too. His lovely blog is here.

The library of one of the most stylish people in fashion, Iris Apfel, via Architectural Digest.

Re-reading this, with much joy. Adam Nicholson is one of the best gardening writers there is, next to Monty Don. No wonder really, considering his grandmother was Vita Sackville-West.

Also bought this on the weekend. The images of Italian and English gardens are wonderful.

A curious little Arts and Craft-style cottage at 29 Leggatt Street in Daylesford that recently sold as part of an auction of charming country properties. Another one was Islay House in Woodend (below) – the old Georgian coach inn, and one of the architectural treasures of Macedon.

It sold for just over $550,000, apparently. Even though it was derelict and in a flood zone. So happy to see that someone's going to save it.

Bunny Mellon's conservatory. Have posted this image before, but still love it. Look at that trompe l'oeil. {Via Vanity Fair}

The royal greenhouses in Brussels. Just lovely.

And a gorgeous new restaurant in Sydney called Chiswick, which has its own kitchen garden. Love the colour scheme, and the outlook over the potager. A meal here would certainly make you happy.

And a few more images for the road...

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