Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, September 24, 2012

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...


  1. Oh Janelle, what a beautiful, heartfelt post. Every word and image resonated with me as I'm ashamed to admit that, most days I'm convinced, that my life would be all around better if our family didn't live in Hobart but in the South of France - which would be a much more exotic, not to mention warmer stage on which to lead my current life of domesticity. Luckily, my crabapple in my Hobart garden is in full bloom and I can't stop staring out the window, admiringly. I'm glad to hear that you are smiling again and I'm rushing out to buy that book by Adam Nicholson. With gratitude, Rx

    1. Oh, Romy. I'd love to live in the South of France too! Or Paris... Or Gramercy Park in New York. Or even Harbour Island! But if we're smart we'll create our own little gardens wherever we are. Your crabapple sounds beautiful. Loving your blog too. x

  2. Thanks Janelle,
    what a heartfelt blog.I identified with it on so many levels. It is hard to live in the moment, but it is worthwhile. I work on embracing mindfulness as i think its more achievable than cbt.
    Thank you for sharing.x

    1. Will have to research mindfulness Wendy. Unfortunately, my mind is usually full of books to write and 'To Do' lists to finish. I need to do more meditation, I think. But I love a good recommendation, so I shall look into your suggestion this week! Thanks for popping by. x

  3. How lucky are we getting to talk to you twice in 24 hours?

    I should be doing a job application but..

    I grew up down the street from Chiswick Gardens ....I remember being held up to see into the large birdbath in the park, the restaurant used to be a sedate tea room.

    The thing that made me most happy about your blog (apart from that Georgian house) ..was that you have someone to come and pick you up in the rain .

    Thanks for the Melbourne advice ...we are going to see South Pacific .. shopping maybe.. I do think you have much better shoe shops than us

    1. How interesting about Chiswick? I didn't realise the garden was that large? It's in Woollahra, isn't it? You are full of fabulous titbits!
      Best of luck with the job application. I'm sure you will be snapped up.
      Melbourne is going to be 27 tomorrow - heat wave for us! Hope the shopping goes well. My favourite shops are the boutiques in Malvern Road in Toorak/Hawksburn (a little like Queen St, Woollahra) and High Street Armadale.
      Have lots of fun. Hope there's a little romance too...

  4. PS Don't give up on the never know what's around the corner. Rx

    1. Thank you Miss Romy. I have reconciled but Hubster is still determined. Try telling a political strategist he can't have something! x

  5. What a lovely post.

    Last night I collected Mr FF from work at 7pm with the Baby wearing his pjs strapped into his little car seat chatting away and I felt to myself "I'm happy". Which is weird because my job security is practically non existant at the moment.

    Then today I had lunch at this Japanese place and while I was sitting there staring at Old Mr FF I thought this is pretty good. I am happy.

    Remember in the hours the Meryl Streep character says that when she fell in love she thought "this is the start of happiness, but when I look back I know that that WAS happiness"

    I think about that a lot. All I know is that it used to take a lot more to make me happy than it does these days.

    Don't give up on the baby.

    I think you can have a beautiful life without one, but you never know what might happen x

    1. What a lovely comment. Your posts always inspire me Miss FF. Perhaps simplicity is the key to life? Hugs to the baby. xx

  6. So glad to hear that happiness has found you again, I well remember what it feels like to lose sight of it for a long time, and how surprising and lovely it is to feel happy again. It sounds like you have a great capacity to see beauty and feel joy.

    1. Thank you Catherine. We're pretty upbeat in this house. Humour takes us far, and we both laugh a lot - at ourselves and each other. I hope you're feeling happier now too. It's lovely to hear from you. x

  7. I have often looked longingly at Islay House in Woodend and don't even live in Vic. but an inconvenient location has never stopped a bit of house longing.
    What a heartfelt and visually uplifting journey you have taken us on today.....don't give up your day job ( as a writer )

    1. Oh my gosh, I wanted it too Bumble! But not at $790,000 (original asking price). The interior was pretty bad. Did you see it? It would have take another million to restore the architecture and interior. And the flood zone was a worry.
      Thanks for dropping by, lovely to see your face, as always. x

  8. Dear Janelle
    Wonderful post - both your words and the pictures. So pleased you have found your way back to happiness.

    It isn't always easy to achieve as there can be so many twists and turns that can take one so far away at times.

    Have just spent five days at a writing workshop conducted by Bryce Courtney. As you know, he has only months to live, but he was an inspiration. He was so passionate and enthusiastic and gave so much of himself even though his strength is now limited. It was a great privilege and we all loved him. This is a man who has faced his own mortality and can still make people laugh and cry and try their hardest. That just by itself was a lesson for us all. With best wishes, Pamela

    1. Oh, how fabulous Pamela! Do you know, I was going to sign up for Bryce Courtney's class in Canberra, but just felt the price was too much, especially when I'm already a writer. I could have sat next to you and not known it!
      Was he worth it?
      I hope that means you're going to write your memoir now... Even if you don't publish it (which I can completely understand), your life story should be preserved for your grandchildren. It's so enthralling.
      So glad you had an inspirational week. xx

    2. Dear Janelle
      What a lovely surprise that would have been! However, I'm sure you made the right decision as the course was pitched at hopeful writers who haven't published. Bryce was inspirational and was supported by a brilliant team of people, including another best selling fiction writer, an editor for a leading publisher, a senior Canberra editor and others, all extremely helpful for hopeful writers. But as you're already a published author of so many wonderful books it wouldn't have been a good use of your money (most of us paid the lower fee as we were either Friends of the National Library or students). Though I'm sure you would have found Bryce's passion, commitment and humour moving and inspirational.
      Guess I might one day try my hand at writing memoirs just for the family. Really appreciate your encouragement. Best wishes, Pamela

  9. What lovely thoughts. Every word resonated - and gave me a good kick in the rear end! It's so easy to focus on the current job woes and not all the good things happening around me. I love reading all that you write and am so pleased to hear of your happiness despite all the twists that life has delivered. We've had a few of those too - I suppose everyone does - we should be thankful for good health in those we love.
    If you live anywhere near that beautiful shop we should meet up for coffee sometime - I'll email. A x

    1. That sounds lovely Ann. There are some gorgeous shops along that Auburn Road strip, although not very many cute cafes, sadly. Hope to meet up one day! x

  10. Replies
    1. You're very welcome. Thank YOU for leaving such a lovely comment. x

  11. Janelle, what a beautiful post, I would love to attend your fabulous garden tour, your photos are lovely. Don't give up on the baby. You never know.x

    1. Well, we'd love to see you Samantha! Will post details soon. x

  12. Happiness is a choice. Every morning. 1 person responsible. Me.

    Gardens, pets, tea, books, music, friends, a beloved, junking, interiors, fabrics, journaling, bringing eggs in from the coup, mentoring, sharing lunch, fashioning a career, etc.

    Happy for every problem endured. They got me here, to happiness.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    Gratitude to those along the way, teaching me the activities of love/happiness. Perhaps gratitude is more important than happiness? Are they the same?

    Looking forward to details of your garden trip.

    1. Your posts and comments are always, always joyous Tara. xx

  13. Thank you for such a lovely and timely post...

    1. Thanks for being kind enough to leave a nice comment Annie. x

  14. Thank you for the September 24th posting. It is lovely and a wonderful reminder to be thankful for the life we have.


  15. what a fab post, Janelle. Photos beautiful as are the sentiments. Thanks Jill

    1. So pleased you like it Jill. I wish more bloggers would post positive things. Every little upbeat line has an affect on us all. x

  16. Beautiful post, Janelle. I think that life's challenging times are sent to us to make us appreciate all the lovely things and moments that are in our ordinary every day. This week has been a particularly difficult and sad week for me, but it's made me garden furiously, bake up a storm and cherish the times I have with my family. The simple things.... hope life continues on an upward trajectory for youxx

  17. Janelle, though I'm happy and easily pleased most of the time, it was comforting to read your post to know we all suffer the blues from time to time.

    I've just finished reading Mitch Albom's new book "The time keeper". It's a quick read but leaves an impact making you think twice, and makes you grateful for what you have because what you seek won't always have the end result you assume it will!

    I'm not sure about ghosts (as per your old country home) but the movie "The Others" with Nicole Kidman left me pondering.....I didn't see that end coming to love that in a movie!

    Cheers again for the post.

  18. your post is a reminder for all of us, that happiness is mostly a choice. thank you.


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