Last month, Greatist asked our readers to respond to the prompt: “How do you find happiness?” Entries for the writing contest poured in, and we were overwhelmed by people’s willingness to share their personal, heartfelt, and hard-earned thoughts on what it means to be happy. It was difficult, but we narrowed it down to two Finalists and one Winner whose work will appear on Greatist. Read the other Finalist’s post here and the winning post here.

Contest Finalist Emily McLaughlin works at an environmental non-profit in Washington, D.C. At night, you can find her blogging at Gathering Green, running, cooking, coaching, and finding new activities to pursue. The views expressed herein are hers and do not necessarily reflect Greatist’s outlook. Connect with Emily and learn more about her and Gathering Green on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

“Happy About Nothing”

Apple cider donuts
A cold shower after a hot run

In one corner of my desk at work, right under some daily puppy calendar tear-offs, I keep a small book by author Barbara Ann Kipper. The book, 14,000 things to be happy about, has been a part of my life for about seven years. On a rainy, humid summer day in Newburyport, Massachusetts, I browsed the boutiques and farmers’ markets with a high school friend as we chatted and caught up on the latest drama. We were seniors in high school, and while we had no real worries to cloud our days, we were still burdened by the everyday petty nuances our final days of high school provided. I didn’t know it at the time, but choosing to purchase Kipper’s book that day would profoundly alter my approach to happiness. Over the years, the book became a Bible of sorts for me. A quick flip through it provides thousands of answers to the pivotal question: “What makes you happy?”

Fresh-picked strawberries in the summer
An Arnold Palmer iced tea/lemonade drink

Inspired by Kipper’s book, I’ve long kept lists on my phone, computer, and a pocket note pad that I carry with me everyday. I am nowhere near 14,000 things, but I add more tiny joys to this list on a regular basis. What makes me happy? How do I cultivate happiness? It’s all in the moments — the small things that wind up, somehow, being unforgettable.

The crunch of the leaves beneath your feet in the fall
A pink and orange sunset

Photo: Emily McLaughlin

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Andy Warhol: “You have to be willing to get happy about nothing.” Open to any page of 14,000 things to be happy about and you’ll likely come to the same conclusion I did: Warhol and Kipper are both onto a well-kept secret of happiness. Springtime in the Rockies, hating shredded wheat, golden lockets, the excitement of a storm and the sudden transformation of a landscape — these are all lines in this priceless book of moments. Do any of these things matter in the grand scheme of life? Not really. Will they help anyone earn more money, end an unhealthy relationship, get a better job, or solve family disputes? Absolutely not.

Summer rain
A crisp, tart apple in the fall

So why care about any of this if it won’t help us accomplish our “big” goals?

The striped patterns left by airplanes in the sky
Willow trees

Because happiness starts and ends with our day-to-day actions. You can’t learn to ride a bike before you know how to walk. You don’t learn how to play soccer until you’ve mastered hand-eye coordination. Solving life’s biggest challenges is a necessary part of maturing, but we gain no satisfaction from solving the big issues if smiles and laughter are foreign concepts. The rush of the metro arriving at the station makes my morning commute a little bit more exciting. The smell of pulled pork reminds me of college. The clicking of the keyboard as someone types relaxes me. I choose happiness. I don’t expect anyone else to provide it and I certainly don’t leave my happiness to the mercy of others. It all starts and ends with the small things. Andy Warhol and Barbara Kipper both understood this and I am determined to live my life in the same fashion.

An Oreo with peanut butter
The smell of fresh cut grass
A sand dollar hidden on the beach
Fireworks on July 4th
Peanuts at a baseball game
The curiosity of a child
Getting lost in a good book

Photo: Emily McLaughlin

I choose happiness. And I’m not letting anyone or anything change that. Happiness for me comes from the little moments. The unforgettable, seemingly insignificant memories. I cultivate happiness from everything and anything. My life isn’t perfect so I find joy in the imperfection. I find happiness in nothing.

How do you find happiness? Tweet us using the hashtag #myhappyis!