Focusing on happy thoughts

Last updated 05:00 02/12/2012
Melissa Mebus
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
Author Melissa Mebus was inspired to collect happy thoughts.

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Melissa Mebus was trying to cheer herself up one grey Wellington day and told herself firmly to think happy thoughts. While she was doing that she thought: ''Wouldn't it be nice to collect happy thoughts?''

That - and catching a television programme in which KidsCan boss Julie Chapman talked about the child-focused charity - inspired Mebus' first book, My Happy Place.

It reveals the ''happy place'', in their own words, of people like Bill Manhire, Boh Runga, Dick Frizzell, Maurice Gee, Gareth Farr and Catriona Williams. The proceeds will go to KidsCan. Children aged 5 to 13 from KidsCan partner schools provided charming illustrations and Witi Ihimaera wrote the foreword.

''My Happy Place,'' Ihimaera writes, ''is one of the books of the year. It is fuelled with aroha, generosity and, in particular, wonder.''

Before she had children, now 3 and 2, Mebus, 38, who grew up in the Wairarapa, had done some writing for the local paper, contemplated journalism school and aspired to Victoria University's creative writing course.  But the book grew from a series of serendipitous accidents.

 She met Ihimaera, for example, when she worked for a while in the office of the New Zealand embassy in the Hague, Holland, her mother's birthplace.  Ihimaera was there on a residency in 2007,  working on the screen adaptation of his novel The Matriarch and Mebus attended an international writers' evening at which he read a story about thoughts on falling off a ladder.

''His feeling was of his kids as he fell and how he might die.''

Mebus remembered this, and the importance of children it reflected, when the book was just a good idea. Ihimaera agreed to contribute.

My Happy Place, she says, took over her life. ''Ninety per cent of people I approached said yes. Some said could they send a few memories. That's why I couldn't stop. What can you do, really? I became a bit obsessed.''

But Mebus' empathy for children in need came long before she was aware of KidsCan or how she could contribute. She never settled into a career as a journalist and eventually trained as a speech therapist. Her first job was in a deprived suburb, working with pre-schoolers.

''It gave me a real experience of people in poverty, in difficult conditions. Speech therapy was the last of the children's problems. It opened my eyes to the hardships faced by some children. It can keep me awake, thinking of children really, really hungry.''

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Even if she makes only $1000 from the book, it will be money the charity didn't have before, she says.

She worries about just how well the book might do. ''And when I'm in doubt, I read the book again.''

She picks it up and reflects on these kinds of observations on happiness from the great and the good:

Joy Cowley: ''I still feel a bit nervous about trying something new, but the nervousness turns into a happy feeling when I go ahead and do it.''

Sir Jon Trimmer: ''When I need to feel happy and bright, I sit quietly where hopefully no-one can disturb me. Then I breathe gently and slowly in and out and imagine the sun sitting above my head, warm and bright. With each breath out I imagine the sun lighting and warming me from the top of my head down to the tips of my toes. I do this for as long as possible, sometimes only five minutes, sometimes longer. It calms me and makes me feel really good.''

Professor Swee Tan: ''Watching things grow.''

Dame Malvina Major: ''I find peace in knowing I have done my best to make a difference in the world and the people in it by using, to the best of my ability, the talent God gave me. I find peace in seeing love in the eyes of another human being and knowing that I have given them something worthwhile, to make their life a little happier.''

My Happy Place, compiled and edited by Melissa Mebus, foreword by Witi Ihimaera, $29.95, profits to KidsCan.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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