In this post, learn about the importance of a ‘what makes you happy list’, how to create one for yourself, and why it is the key to building a life you love.
Do you ever feel like your life looks great on the outside, but you don’t feel happy in your day-to-day? One day blends into the next until you realize you’ve completely forgotten what brings you joy in life, or maybe you never really knew…
That was me a few years ago.
After working for almost 20 years in a fast-paced career that never truly fulfilled me, I had chosen to take a step back to focus on being a mom. I thought this lifestyle change would finally make me happy and fill a missing void.
For a short while, I immersed myself in my new stay-at-home mom life and I was generally content with this role. My days were consumed by the needs of my two young children, one of them a preschooler and the other a baby at the time.
In retrospect, I see now that I didn’t have the time or energy to think about whether or not I was actually happy! Each day was a marathon just to make it through.
However, as my boys grew and we officially exited the baby and toddler years, their needs were not as demanding and I found myself thinking that this couldn’t be it for me.
I recall feeling more lost than ever during this time, considering a return to the workforce, but unsure of in what capacity. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to the career I once had, but I had no clue of what other career I might enjoy more.
This lack of direction left me feeling depressed and down on myself, realizing yet again that I still had no idea of where my passions lie or what I wanted to be “when I grow up”.
After countless tearful conversations about how lost I felt, one day my husband simply asked me this –
“What makes you happy?”
“Why don’t you make a list of what makes you happy,” he said, “and don’t worry about whether any of those things can be turned into a new career. Just think about what makes you happy.”
I thought about it for a few minutes. And then a few minutes more. Everything that came to mind had something to do with my kids.
There had to be other things in my life that brought me joy, right???
Honestly, I had a really hard time coming up with anything at all. I realized then and there that I practically had no margin for what even brought me happiness in my everyday life. Maybe I had forgotten, or perhaps I never knew in the first place.
In either case, I knew that had to change.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I eventually managed to figure it out and was able to find ways to start infusing joy and happiness into my daily life. (You can read more about my story here.)
Now, if you ask what makes me happy, I have a whole list of things! In this post, I’d like to offer some advice to help you get there as well.
How to Create a ‘What Makes You Happy List’
What is it?
A ‘what makes you happy list’ is fairly self-explanatory and sounds simple, right? But if you relate at all to my story above, then you know it’s not always so easy to conjure up what makes you happy and brings you joy in life.
Is it buying those new shoes you saw at the mall last week? Your son scoring the winning goal in his soccer match? Or that trip to Disney you have planned for the kids’ spring break?
Sure, any of those things could make you happy in the moment, but this is not what I mean when talking about creating a ‘what makes you happy list’.
A ‘what makes you happy list’ is not about “stuff”. It’s not buying new shoes or going on vacation or even proud mama moments.
The items that will make up your list need to be everyday moments, practices, and routines that help you balance out overwhelm and stress by inspiring more joy and happiness in your day.
AND you must be able to recreate them on a regular basis.
The substance of your ‘what makes you happy list’ works together to enable you to create a life you love day in and day out.
Sounds amazing, right? So how do you actually figure out what to put on your list?
Why is a ‘what makes you happy list’ important?
Before we get into how to come up with your ‘what makes you happy list’, let’s first understand why it’s so important to have one.
You might be stuck in a job you don’t like, but can’t leave it because your family depends on your income. Or perhaps you have a health condition or challenging family dynamic that you struggle to manage. Maybe your husband works long hours and you’re home all day with the baby feeling bored and lonely, but you can’t afford childcare.
Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily change all the circumstances in your life (maybe some), but you can work on fostering a positive mindset by knowing what makes you happy and finding ways to bring it into your days, whatever your situation is.
In other words, creating a ‘what makes you happy list’ and then proactively incorporating those things into your daily life is something that you have the power to control.
Not only is it fundamentally important to know what makes you happy and infuse it into your daily life, but it’s also extremely helpful to keep these ideas in the forefront of your mind by putting them on a list. (And yes, I’m referring to an actual list that you have written down or stored on your computer or phone, not just ideas floating around in your head.)
Whenever you’re feeling off, you can check in with your list and evaluate if you are incorporating enough components into your daily routine. If not, then you know what you need to do to start feeling happier and more like yourself again.
The key thing to understand is that knowing what makes you happy and finding ways to bring these elements into your every day is vital to you thriving in a life you love, by your design.
Your ‘what makes you happy list’ is your secret formula to your own personal brand of happiness.
3 Steps to Create a ‘What Makes You Happy List’
1.) Brainstorm ideas
The first step in creating your ‘what makes you happy list’ requires a little self-reflection. Take some time to sit down in a quiet spot and brainstorm ideas of what makes you happy. These can be big or small things, but ask yourself what truly brings you joy and happiness on a deep level.
Although this may be the most obvious step, it can prove to be the most difficult for some. If you are struggling to come up with ideas, I have 3 suggestions that might help. (I’ll also give you some examples later on of what’s on my own list.)
#1 – Think about a time in your life when you felt happiest and at your best.
What combination of things was happening?
- What were you doing on a daily basis?
- What habits and routines did you have?
- What time did you wake up and how did you spend your days?
- Who were your friends?
- Were you working and in what capacity?
- **Can any of these elements be recreated in your daily life?
#2 – Make a list of the things YOU love.
Try to remove all the outside noise and even remove yourself from your real life for the moment to reflect on what makes you happy as an individual, not as a mom or wife, but as YOU.
- When do YOU actually feel happiest?
- What are you doing when you feel happiest?
- Where are you located? Are you in your home? Are you outdoors?
- At what time of day do you feel your best?
- **Can any of these elements be recreated in your daily life?
#3 – If you’re still stuck, think back to your younger years when you had the luxury of being totally selfish.
Perhaps this is when you were a teenager or in your early 20’s (pre-kids and major responsibilities). Think back to when you could do whatever you wanted and ask yourself some of the same questions above.
Oftentimes what you enjoyed and how you chose to spend your time in your younger years can help you reconnect with who you really are at your core.
Even if you feel like you’ve lost yourself in motherhood these past few years, be rest assured that you’re still in there. You’re still YOU, there are just some layers to get through to find you again.
2.) Live it out
Once you know what’s going to be on your list, it’s time to put it into action every day.
It’s great that you did some soul-searching and figured out what makes you happy (some people don’t even get that far), but if you don’t choose to do anything with your ‘‘what makes you happy list’, then you’re not going to be able to create a life that you love living.
Therefore, the next step is to find ways to merge the items on your list with your daily life. You might not get to do everything on your list every single day and sometimes there could be days when nothing from the list is possible, but in order to feel happier on a consistent basis, it’s imperative that you find ways to bring those elements into your life.
This means scheduling your joy into your calendar. It could also mean hiring childcare, getting your husband on board, enlisting help from friends and family, and/or waking up earlier.
Whatever it takes, you gotta find a way to prioritize yourself and your happiness.
3.) Give yourself permission
The last step is crucial in creating a life you love and that is giving yourself permission to do those things that bring you joy and happiness.
As moms, we often feel guilty when taking time for ourselves and thus living out your ‘what makes you happy list’ may require some mindset shifts to help move past the mom guilt.
Try the following mindset shifts:
#1 – You are doing it for the betterment of your family
Sometimes we think that doing things for the sake of our own happiness is frivolous. IT IS NOT.
Realize that finding ways to incorporate joy and happiness into your life has a huge impact on your mindset and you having a healthy mindset benefits everyone in the family, not just you.
Your healthy mindset is a basic component of your overall well-being and that of your family.
#2 – Your kids want a happy mom
When you’re not happy, your kids can tell. Furthermore, it’s very likely that they may even think it’s their fault, as young kids tend to think everything is about them, right?
If you’re not happy in your daily life, it also affects how you interact with your children. They become another task on your to-do list and they can feel that vibe from you, along with your exhaustion and overwhelm.
Motherhood is not a competition for who has it the worst. Stop competing for the “motherhood is martyrdom” award and give yourself permission to live out your ‘what makes you happy list’ as often as possible so you can be a happy mom for your kids.
#3 – It’s a necessary investment in you
As a mom, you are truly the glue of the family. You hold it all together and are the indispensable machine that makes everything run smoothly. Nobody wants that machine to break down and thus it’s imperative that you continuously invest in its maintenance.
By doing the things that make you happy on a daily basis, you are making a necessary investment in yourself.
#4 – You’re modeling for your children
Do you want your children to be happy? How about when they’re grown adults?
Should just “getting by” be enough for them or do you want them to live each day doing things that make them happy?
I want my children to learn to live their lives in a way that brings them joy and happiness every day and I realize that as their mother, I am modeling this for them (along with everything else 🤦🏻♀️).
Thus, I am going to try to live my life in the way that I hope they will.
What will you put on your ‘what makes you happy list’?
Below are a few things from my list that I strive to incorporate into my daily life. What will you put on yours?
- My morning routine
- Getting up before my kids to enjoy the quiet of morning
- Walking outside while listening to a podcast
- Sitting in my favorite porch swing
- Reading for personal growth
- Riding my bike
- Keeping an uncluttered house
- Writing outdoors
- Dessert after dinner
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Carly is a wife, mom, and former NYC fashion industry executive turned writer and life coach. Through her writings on littlevoicebigmatter.com, she shares practical advice, heartfelt insights, and actionable resources to inspire and support women in motherhood, relationships, wellness, and life. Carly also helps women create better balance in their lives and live with more joy, purpose, and connection every day through her coaching.