The “Choose to be Happy” List

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

Sometimes life takes you where you don’t want to go.

Life brought me to Philadelphia—a place I never wanted to live again. I spent a few years here as a young adult, but never felt very happy here. I started college here, but lost my way and dropped out. I remembered this as a place where I worked dreary jobs, had a hard time making friends, and felt as though everyone around me was moving forward while I wasn’t. I guess you could say Philly made me feel like a failure.

So why would I want to come back here?

My husband actually enjoyed growing up here, but he became very outdoorsy during our years away, so he didn’t want to live here (or in any city) again either. The pull of family, however, was stronger than our reasons for not wanting to return, so we reluctantly closed the door on what was, and made our way back to Philly.

Once we arrived, I knew I had two choices: be miserable, or make the best of it.

I chose the latter. I opted to imagine that our time here would be short-term, and I decided to try to do as many fun things in or near Philly as I could during our stay.  I began making a list of places I wanted to go, and experiences I wanted to have.

Onto my list went things like museum visits, factory tours, beach-combing at the shore right after a big storm, a tour of City Hall and a tour of the Wanamaker Building, attending a big venue concert, peach-picking at an orchard, and attending games played by each of Philly’s major sports teams.

Fortunately, I’m a more outgoing person than I was when I lived here long ago, and having my list of local goals gave me conversation starters for chatting up new acquaintances. I’d ask people if they’d ever done this thing or that thing, and before I knew it, they were volunteering to go with me. For example, this response from someone I’d hoped to get to know better: “No, I’ve never walked across the Ben Franklin Bridge—but I’ve always wanted to! When do you want to go?”

I realized my list was helping me in so many ways. It was helping me get to know the city, as I researched new things to do and places to go. It was making me happy because I always had something to look forward to. And it was helping me make friends, which was a side benefit that I hadn’t seen coming!

As time goes by, I check more-and-more things off my list—like a Sixers game with my cousin Janice (free tickets courtesy of her daughter who is a Sixers dancer);  a trip to creepy Eastern State Penitentiary, the Mutter Museum (also creepy!) and a Phillies game—all with my friend Beth who travels from Alaska to visit me; an evening at Spruce Harbor Park with my friend Margie; and an afternoon at PAFA* with my friend Barb. As I check things off the list, I keep adding more, which means that even though our “short-term” stay has now lasted eight years, it looks like I’ll never run out of fun things to do.

The longer I live, the better I understand that happiness is a choice; that when I look for the good in a place or a situation, I can usually find it; and that cultivating friendships can make any place feel like home.

Oh, and one more thing . . .

Philly is a much better place than I had remembered.

*Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is a museum and art school, and a great place to visit.

Photo via Pixabay 

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