My happiest memories of 2011: Part one

I'm certain you've heard it before: one of the surefire ways to increase your happiness is to focus on gratitude.



I’m certain you’ve heard it before: one of the surefire ways to increase your happiness is to focus on gratitude. And we’re all acquainted with the warm flood of satisfaction that tends to wash over us, like a mug of hot chocolate after coming in from the cold — or a couple of fingers of whisky, if I want to be less wholesome and more honest — when we sit back and luxuriate in the memory of something that made us really, really happy. So as I slide into this new year, already carried away with making travel plans and moving forward and lining up opportunities to eat tacos and noodle soups, I’ve decided to slam on the breaks and spend a little time over the next several weeks pouring over my happiest moments of 2011 — and it’s no surprise to me that they’re all travel related. First up, bonding in Bourdeaux.

If I asked you to spend a long weekend in a old stone farmhouse with a dozen family members, would you run screaming in the opposite direction? That was my initial thought, too. But it actually turned out to be one of the more magical experiences I’ve ever had. We gathered one weekend in the south of France in a rambling property on a hill covered in grape vines, and a 20-minute walk from a tiny village. Every morning, we woke up whenever we pleased, drank coffee and ate croissants, went to the market to buy food for lunch and dinner, came home and prepared lunch (with accompanying boxes of wine), retired for naps or some time by the pool or to read in a hammock, and then came together again to make and eat dinners of oversized prawns and duck breasts and then linger over strong cheeses and digestifs while engaging in a little light political talk and some friendly gossiping about the family members who weren’t in attendance.

It was one of the most relaxing times I’ve ever had. And there are few things happier than realizing — though it wasn’t a total surprise — just how much you enjoy spending time with your family. On my last night in Bourdeaux, I sat at a cafe in St. Emilion, a glorious medieval town, with my dad, my stepmother, and my cousin. We were sipping champagne and waiting for the rest of the entourage to arrive. We raised our glasses in a toast, and I realized how reluctant I was for the experience to end. After years of planning out bar-hopping routes with friends in exotic destinations, was I really completely fulfilled by an extended family vacation? I’m pressing for a return trip to double check…

So how about you? Have you spent any time reviewing your happiest moments of 2011 and why they delighted you as much as they did?