For one woman it was wearing her grandmother's wild-fox stole. For another, it was using a blueglass dessert dish, the only survivor from a set of six. It reminded her, she said, of rice pudding at Granny's on a Sunday.
When Twinings surveyed 1000 New Zealand women and asked them about the things that made them feel happy or special, they chose the everyday over the extraordinary. Perfume made the list. So did lingerie (38 percent),nail polish (28 percent), scented candles (26 percent), designer shoes (21 percent) and a special handbag (21 percent).
Surprised? In 2009, when an online pawnbroker asked women about their most treasured items, the Daily Mail reported that four in 10 would be devastated if they lost their mobile phones, but a third admitted they could live happily without a man in their lives. What makes us happy? What makes us feel special?
Last month, BBC News reported findings from The World Database of Happiness (top three happiest countries: Costa Rica, Denmark and Iceland), whose collective studies showed people tended to be happier if they were in a long-term relationship, were actively engaged in politics, were active in work and their freetime, had close friendships and went out for dinner.
It also determined that being considered good looking increased men's happiness more than it did women's and having children lowered happiness levels - at least until the kids grew up and left home. Meanwhile, one German research team discovered that people who spent an hour getting to work were significantly less happy than those who didn't commute, and across the Tasman, a study by Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia found while marriage boosted men's satisfaction levels for an entire year, for women that bliss was lucky to last nine months.
What makes us happy? What makes us feel special? Sometimes it depends on the research company. But Michaela Dumper, Twinings New Zealand marketing director, believes the results of the tea company's survey support the fact that we're living ''faster and more complicated lives than ever before''.
''It reflects a cultural shift towards enjoying simple and sentimental things more regularly, as our lives get busier... taking time out to enjoy life's simple pleasures is important for our wellbeing. Using our 'treasured' things more regularly simply makes us feel better.''
Auckland North Shore resident Jane Evans was ticking at least one of the 'ways to get happy' boxes when Sunday caught up with her. ''I'm out walking,'' she said. But it was her bone-handled knives - not her endorphin-inducing exercise regime - we wanted to talk about. ''Beautiful cutlery is a joy to use,'' she had written in her response to the Twinings survey. ''I bought them after a lifetime of them being in a drawer being used only for 'special'. Now I am using these 60-year-old treasures every day - because they are special, fine quality and a joy to use!"
She remembers similar knives growing up. ''I used to shun them when I was young and go, 'they're revolting'. Now I'm of the age where I appreciate quality, I'm on Trade Me trying to buy them back. I've got some lovely ones now, which make me very happy.'' On her fridge, she says, is ''a wee motto from a 92-year-old lady'' urging people to break out the best candles and linen, to not wait for special occasions, to wear it, to use it - now.
''I'm not leaving them in a drawer for another generation, even though I'm very pleased someone did that for me. I enjoy the quality and the craftsmanship which you don't get so much now that everything is mass produced.'' Evans has one set for dinner, another for cutting steak, and another set is used every morning for buttering her Vogels. ''They're the best thing!''
Twenty minutes south of Cambridge, Keryn Brown has nominated a teapot bought at a Moroccan market as the thing she uses most regularly to make her feel happy or special. ''We were celebrating my 50th birthday and my husband and I went on a trip. We loved Fez. It was like going back into pre-biblical times.
''Everywhere you went they offered cups of minttea, and it was all made in these silver teapots. So every time I use this pot, which is several times a day because we live on a farm and everybody comes in and has a cup of tea, I think about that smell and that amazing marketplace.''
Brown, who works as a nurse manager, says her Moroccan experience reinforced the importance of sharing food and drink. ''In my job we deal with people in their homes. If they offer a cup of tea and you accept it, you're accepting part of them.''
Search for quotes tagged 'happiness' and it appears everybody who is anybody has had an opinion on the subject. Mahatma Gandhi: ''Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you doare in harmony.'' The Dalai Lama: ''Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.'' And, of course, there is that old, oft-repeated adage, ''Money can't buy you happiness.'' But, despite the findings of the Twinings survey, is that true?
When the results of the first Sovereign Wellbeing Index were released here earlier this year (following a survey of nearly 10,000 New Zealanders), it found that older, female and financially stable Kiwis had the highest levels of wellbeing. Furthermore, people's wellbeing tended to increase with wealth. But the study also confirmed five 'free' pathways: socially connecting with others; giving time and resources to others; appreciating and taking notice of one's surroundings; learning new things; and being physically active.
Last week, Statistics New Zealand reported the findings of the third New Zealand General Social Survey. Having good health, relationships, housing and enough money were identified as strong influences on Kiwi satisfaction, with 87 percent of the population (around the same level as similar surveys inAustralia, the United States and Canada) reporting they were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives overall.
Katie Drewell, who moved to Porirua from the United Kingdom six years ago, says what makes you feel special is something ''that makes you feel warm and fuzzy - so that could be a memory''. For the Twinings survey she nominated a set of Waterford crystal goblets. ''They were a moving-in present from my father when my husband and I had just bought a house. Each birthday and Christmas he'd buy us another pair of glasses. They came in a satin-lined box, and all that. What do you do with something like that?''
And then her father died in a motorbike accident.That same year the Drewells made the decision to move to New Zealand. She was sorting her family affairs, dealing with immigration, ''and not spending a huge amount of time with my children''. A picnic was in order. The non-cake-baker baked a cake (it was okay, she said, with a bit of jam and cream). It rained. Katie spread her Nan's crochet blankets on the floor and then she dragged out the Waterford crystal and filled it with Ribena. There was a moment, she says, when she did question the wisdom of serving blackcurrant extract to an 18-month-old in a very expensive goblet, ''but it was important for me to start making memories''.
She admits she hasn't let her girls (now aged nine and seven, and joined by a nine-month-old baby brother) use the glasses since. ''But sometimes I say to my husband, 'Let's get the good glasses out.' And we just sit there, in the middle of the week, with a bottle of wine...I think, my father went out and specifically chose these. I suppose it brings it all a bit closer to me.''
- Sunday Magazine
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