When was the last time you felt really happy? Write for 10 minutes…

I’m reading Nathalie Goldberg’s book on writing memoir, which goes under the wonderful title of Old Friend from Far Away. As you might expect with Goldberg, it’s full of practical writing exercises, and when I came to this one, I was briefly stalled: When was the last time you felt really, really happy?


I’ve done the exercise before – I can’t remember now what prompted it – and it was really easy. Having fresh blueberries on my morning muesli – that had made me happy. Watching an old episode of Frasier while I was eating it – happy, happy, happy. My normal approach to life is celebratory and thankful, so happiness always feels close to the surface.

But today I found myself having to cast my mind back, across the numb times of these past few weeks, during which my mother was given a diagnosis of leukaemia, developed pneumonia and died, all within ten days. She approached the end of her life the way she approached every part of it, with stoicism, taking care of the practicalities and being clear about her preferences and decisions.

She was 90 years old, and had been ready to go for several years, as her physical condition deteriorated; she was not at all afraid of dying. She died in her own home, having steadfastly refused all life-extending treatments, with her family at her bedside, on her wedding anniversary, so in many ways it felt like a blessed death.

In this interval between my mother dying and her funeral, I’ve been mostly sleeping, walking and reading – books like the Nathalie Goldberg.

When was the last time I felt really, really happy? I suddenly remembered my book launch, at my friend Gill’s art gallery in Devon. My younger daughter was staying with me, and she raised the toast for one of the books I was launching. One of my oldest friends raised the second toast. I did some readings.


It was a stunning, beautiful evening, a full moon over Dartmoor, and a happy throng inside the bright gallery, among the paintings and artefacts. Everything flowed.

A happy throng
A happy throng

Afterwards, my daughter stayed on for a few days. The weather was hot, as it often is in Cornwall in the last days of September, and we walked the coastal path together.


So that’s what I’ve just written about, and now the last time I felt really happy was half an hour ago.

Such is the transforming magic of writing. When you use all your senses to immerse yourself in the creative experience and allow your body to feel the emotions, you are creating or re-creating real experience for the self.

Right now, I can’t manage to push forward into new worlds with fiction and my current work-in-progress, but writing into the more familiar territory of my own life feels easy and affirming.

I’m looking forward to offering a new course in memoir writing in 2016 

14 thoughts on “When was the last time you felt really happy? Write for 10 minutes…”

  1. Great entry Jen. I felt really, really happy at your launch too. So many old and dear friends to chat to, a lovely venue and an inspiring launch of two of your books. Love to you.

  2. So sorry to hear your mother’s died, Jenny, though it sounds very peaceful. Hope you’re having a gentle, healing time now, and it must be so comforting to remember past happy times. Lovely post! xxx

  3. The last time I felt really happy? Today! In part because it’s my 52nd birthday, and it’s always good to see another birthday. The weather was dreary; hot and muggy because of rain. Then tornadoes threatened the area. But I’m thankful for my parents, my dog, and the variety of friends I have. I’m certainly thankful for my creative mind that compels me to read and write. It drives me crazy sometimes, but it’s mine.

    I’m saddened to learn of your mother’s sudden passing, Jen. But celebrating her life in the way you did surely brought her much joy. I wish we all could have the pleasure of living to age 90. Best wishes to you and your loved ones, Jen.

  4. Happy birthday, Alejandro! I like that you’re grateful for your creative mind – I feel exactly the same way. I can’t imagine what life would be like without the joy of engaging with worlds of imagination through reading and writing.

  5. Lovely post, Jenny, and you are so right about the power of words taking us to another place and time. I always feel, when writing for children, that it allows me to be young and free again. Really sorry to hear about your mum – she sounds like an amazing woman.

    1. Thank-you, Abi. I feel that way about writing for children too – I love how it can take me back to happy childhood frames of mind, especially the 8-11 stage that I usually write for. I didn’t much enjoy being taken back to teenage times with my YA novel, so I don’t think I’ll choose to do that again.

  6. Thank you, Jenny. Did you ever capture any of your mother’s life stories on video or audio tape? I’m undergoing a project right now where I’m getting my parents to recount their various memories from childhood on up. It’s especially imperative with my mother, as her memory is fading. My father’s memory is still sharp, but he has other health problems. They’re both 82. I’ve heard so many of these stories before, but I want to memorialize them permanently. Everyone has a story, and each one is important!

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