Hating New York City has been part of my personality since I moved here kicking and screaming. Or more realistically, I did the Adult™ version of that: listening to Bon Iver for 2 months straight. That was 5 years ago.
Then, while in Oregon earlier this year ~for pleasure~, I impulsively signed a lease. It was the start to my move west, to my green-er, more spacious, and less urine-scented dream. That was supposed to happen April 1st. Yep, a global pandemic hit, stay at home orders were put into place, and ultimately, I made the painful decision to break my lease in Oregon and postpone my move indefinitely.
True, many people have it way worse. I still have a job (Hi! It’s me! Penning this essay!), health insurance, and a roof over my head, thanks to my landlord agreeing to rent me back my “old” apartment month to month. But living in my “old” apartment with no “Leave New York” date set, has put me in the weird, joy-less purgatory of living in-between.
Or at least had put me there.
I confess: For the first few weeks of *throws arms around wildly* I let half-packed boxes from the move that’s no-longer taunt me. I brought back my fave coping buddy, Justin Vernon. And #coronavirus Twitter was my guilty pleasure (read: unhealthy obsession).
But then my therapist (love her) gave me some tough love. To paraphrase: Quit moping.
With that, I re-implemented my go-to self-care practices (taking my anxiety meds, yoga, face masks, a little masturbation). And I also started unpacking. But rather than plopping my stuff wherever I’d had it previously, I had an idea: A happiness wall.
Happiness wall (noun)
A wall specifically designed with your happiness in mind. It’s not about aesthetics or Instagrammable-ness (although that can be a goal!). It’s about what makes you feel good and warm and fuzzy because it also represents your hopes, dreams, and best memories.
It’s the kind of wall that people look at and go, “Tell me about that!”
Yes, it’s exactly as campy as it sounds. But it has sparked more joy than “Marie Kondo-ing” my panty drawer or raising my own sourdough starter ever did. It has also made the whole trapped in New York thing a little more bearable.
After 2 weeks of living with my Wall Of Sunshine, I was feeling good. Real good. Curious if this was the placebo effect, I called up two therapists.
No, neither of them are my therapist (because boundaries), but they both agreed a happiness wall has the potential to improve mood.
“Whether quarantining alone or with others there is no denying that we have all had to give up something(s) as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and are therefore all feeling a tremendous absence,” says Symonne Kennedy, LMSW, a psychotherapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC.
“Amidst this tremendous lack of control, it can be helpful to focus on the positives and find areas of our lives where we can exert our own will.”
Finding and enjoying the little things that brighten our day can make this quarantine life easier, she says, so “having a wall of happiness-producing things is exactly the kind of thing that could lift one’s spirits!”
Beyond having appeal during ~these uncertain times~, Kennedy says anytime we’re feeling isolated the trifecta of planning/building/looking at a happiness wall can be helpful. (For example, once I eventually move across the country to Oregon, I’ll be…). I’d go as far as liken planning a happiness wall like planning future tattoos! The plotting = part of the fun.
Oh, and you don’t have to wait until the wall is complete for benefits to start. Even puzzling it together can be healing in its own right.
“Exercising our creative side to make something is good for the body and mind,” says Kennedy. In fact, one 2018 study found a direct link between how much time people spend each day being creative, and how energetic and excited they are.
She adds: “When we design or construct, we are at the helm, which can help us regain some sense of autonomy and agency.”
True. Me to myself after finishing my wall: you is smart, you is kind, you is in control!
So, for the nosy SOBs here, I’ll share what’s on my happiness wall.
Obviously, what brings me happiness will be different than what brings you happiness. But these will give you some inspo for what you might choose to display.
Photos and illustrations of places I love
You bet your ass this doesn’t include NYC scenes. But it does include an illustration I had commissioned a local Oregon illustrator to draw. It’s one of my favorite Oregon coffee shops that I saw during my visit earlier this year.
Commissioning a piece is an awesome way to gift yourself with art that is The Most You. And it’ll help support someone who’s likely dealing with a slashed income right now. Instagram is an amazing way to find artists. Some of my faves: Laura Supnik, Sydney Halela, Melissa Hines, Reesa Beesa, and Pink Bits.
Sula Malina, a therapist in training at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC, says: “So long as you can frame these spots as places we’re looking forward to visiting or moving — rather than places we can’t currently visit or move — looking at photographs of our literal ‘happy place’ can actually impact our happiness in the present moment.”
Congratulate me: I managed to hang a butt plug and harness from the wall. Pretty punk rock, amiright?
Wondering why? Because it reminds me that I am a sexual being.
Babes, coronavirus-induced (survival) stress has shrunk my libido faster than a hot wash and dry cycle shrunk my Rodeoh harness. And while I take comfort in knowing it’s normal for a pandemic to do topsy-turvy things to the libido, I still miss actively being my full sexual self.
Makes sense, says Malina. “For allosexual folk — those of us who don’t identify on the asexual spectrum — sexuality is a central aspect of self identity.” (Like me!).
Depending on your sexual tastes (and how open you are with your living mates), hanging a butt plug or strap-on harness may sound a little Extra. But since the goal of the happiness wall is to insight pleasure and joy, Kennedy advises us to get creative.
“Adding features that represent, play tribute to, or remind you of your sexuality can make us feel alive — especially for those who are experiencing coronavirus-induced abstinence,” she says. So if that means some artfully drawn nudes, go for it.
Quotes you’d find on Tumblr
I also plopped handwritten quotes that have long-served as my Northern star.
Pleasure is the point. Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom.― Adrienne Maree Brown
It sounds very college dorm. But playing calligraphist while writing the quotes made me feel like a multitalented boss bitch. Plus, the thing with a happiness wall is that the goal of it isn’t to make your room look like a Pottery Barn catalogue. It’s to bring joy! And pleasure! And for me, these pleasure-focused quotes do.
And as Kennedy says: “They also provide continuous feedback to the mind, serving as a positive reminder of how you want to live and navigate the world.”
So far as I can tell, most worthwhile pleasures on this earth slip between gratifying another and gratifying oneself.― Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
Photos of my pals
Even though I am video chatting with my pals, I still miss them! It’s nowhere the same as snuggling on the couch with them while watching “The L Word” (miss you, Em!) or working out with them during CrossFit (hi, Fitfam!).
“For those facing ‘screen fatigue’ or ‘Zoom fatigue’ looking at photos of friends can help stimulate feelings of connection and togetherness, two feelings that lately feel like they are in short supply,” says Malina, without requiring that you fire up your computer.
Creative writing, not collaging, is my jam. But on one particularly dull day of self isolation, I whipped out my scissors and a stack of old postcards and PlayBoy mags (RIP). About 2 hours later I had an awesome, horny collage to show for it, proving that a happiness wall doesn’t have to cost you a darn thing!
Plus, everytime I look at my wall I’m reminded how creative I really am. Hello, hourly ego stroke.
…without ruining the wall!
1. Command strips, command strips, command strips
I know, I know, again with the dorm room throwback. But, Samanthan Steiner owner and president of The Hi/Lo Collective, an interior design studio and virtual showroom says they’re the next best things to nails!
“Use four of the Command large picture hanging strips per every 15 pounds of artwork just to be safe,” she says. “The heavier the artwork, the more strips you’ll need.”
Interior designer Mitchell Hill adds that if you can’t find command strips, Museum Putty works too.
2. Make use of bookshelves
With her advice, I shimmied my bookshelf closer to my happiness wall. After all, my sexuality book collection makes me happy AF. And it absolutely made my whole room feel more me!
3. Try command strip hooks
There were two random nails in my wall from the last tenant that I was able to hang my harness, hat, and booty plug on.
But if you’re not so “lucky,” Steiner says you can’t go wrong with Command wire hooks. “Many people use them for keys, but they’re not just for keys!”
4. Take your time!
Babes, there’s no rush to go from blank wall to wall ‘o happy in one day flat. It took me about a week to put my wall (in its current iteration) up. And I plan to continue slowly growing it as the things that bring me joy ebb and flow, as they inevitably will.
Who woulda thunk all I need to hate the city of chaos a little less, is a little arts and crafts and command strips??
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.