Happy Black Women At Every Age Reveal The Small Acts That Brought Them Big Joy

The pursuit of happiness begins with one small step. Here, women from ages 23 to 50-plus reveal the simple acts that have brought them tremendous joy. Get inspired!

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of ESSENCE Magazine

“I participated in what I deemed my Year of Silence. I was still speaking, but I really dedicated time to learning the art of listening. It helped center me and definitely eased the stress and anxiety I was experiencing, because I was able to respond to people instead of just reacting. Learning to reel it in was difficult for me at first, but eventually I found comfort in not having the self-assumed burden of carrying the conversation all the time. I also learned to check in with myself more.”
—Virginia Lowman, 28, New York City (shown above)

“I used to wake up in the morning and immediately check Twitter and Facebook. An hour later I’d still be in bed. I started noticing that I was sad and not -motivated to go to work and get things done, which was strange because I love my job. So I stopped -checking my phone and computer first thing in the morning. I didn’t even realize my social media feeds were having such an effect on me until I cut them out. After a few weeks of just waking up and reading a book or listening to a podcast, I felt lighter and more energized.”— Jolie A. Doggett, 27, Hampton, VA

“For the past year, I’ve stopped comparing my life to others’ and it has changed my outlook and brought me joy. I realized I overlooked my own progress because it wasn’t ‘as good as’ someone else’s. I started waking up earlier and took time to write down three things I am grateful for each day. After a few weeks, I began getting excited to go to sleep so I could wake up and count my blessings.” — Maleeka T. Hollaway, 28, Atlanta

“I decided to pick up a new instrument. I’d wanted to play the bass for years. I turned 23 and felt I wasn’t doing enough with my time. It was giving me anxiety. I just needed to break the cycle of repetition. Learning something new makes time seem as if it’s passing more slowly. Once I started I felt better immediately. I can now see, feel and hear my progress, and that makes me happy.” — Marissa Lewis, 23, Harlem, NY

“Although I’m passionate about my career and moving up the corporate ladder, I knew I needed to find happiness outside of work. Deciding to attend weekly therapy -sessions and opening up about traumatic events in my life helped my progress. It’s made me feel lighter. I’m more transparent with myself and other people about my boundaries and limits.” — Dominique Fluker, 26, Oakland


In Your 20s

I remembered all the things I enjoyed doing as a kid and began adding them to my life. I used to train in martial arts when I was younger, so I started again. This time I took my three children with me to class, and this became a way to bond with my family.” — Kam Ridley, 37, Jackson, MS (shown above)

“A few years ago I decided to go off the grid every Sunday. I felt that I needed one day to myself. It started with me just turning my phone off in worship. It gives me a day to look forward to each week, and I feel great every Sunday because I sleep; eat; mask my hair, feet and face; do laundry and lie in bed. This recharges and prepares me for the crazy week ahead.” —Ayisha Elliott, 36, Irvington, NJ

“I’ve been intentional about not bringing work home on the weekends and scheduling meetings where I am less likely to miss time with my kids. For those times when bringing work home is unavoidable, I wait until they go to sleep, even if that means I stay up later. I know that their school parties are usually on Thursdays and Fridays, so I make sure my office hours are on other days of the week so that I can step away for a few minutes to be with them. The moments with my kids are irreplaceable. Seeing their joy lets me know that I am doing something right.” — Nandi Marshall, 36, Statesboro, GA

“In the past I found myself struggling to stay afloat and keep myself focused on goals I wasn’t able to clearly articulate. I made it a point this year to be intentional in praying for exactly what I wanted. I began writing specific prayer requests on slips of paper with the date. I revisit my prayer jar on occasion and if my blessing has manifested, I write in the date it happened and remove it from the jar and place it in my vision journal. This is a visual and tangible reminder that my peace is being protected and my steps are being ordered.” — Cherese Chantell Clark-Wilson, 34, Atlanta

“After my divorce, my therapist asked what was something I was doing to bring me personal joy. I sat for a few minutes in silence because I could not think of one thing I did that was just for me that I absolutely loved. My assignment that week was to find something I could implement as part of my self-care plan. I love aromatherapy massages. They make me forget everything for that one hour and nothing matters but me feeling good. I went to a local spa and purchased a monthly package.” — Melissa Nicole Gaillard, 38, Colorado Springs


In Your 30s

After attending a spiritual retreat in Sedona, Arizona, a little more than a year ago, I began a meditation practice that I fell in love with.” —Leslie Gordon, 49, Los Angeles (shown above)

“I started running three years ago and committed myself to the sport. I joined several running clubs and signed up for marathons. Running has changed my life. I began running to lose weight and to snap out of what I now know was depression. This was something I could focus on, and it gave me a great deal of clarity. I lost 30 pounds the first year. I’m more confident, and I’ve found a sport that I adore. I started to love myself again because of running, and I became more focused in my personal life and at work. It brought me joy, although it was extremely challenging. It showed me that I was strong and could overcome anything.” —Towalame Austin, 45, Los Angeles

“Having a self-imposed obligation to people was inhibiting. I was so disgruntled doing things that I didn’t have to. I started to make a conscious effort to think before committing to things. I stopped using the word ‘should.’ Letting go of that allowed for more spontaneous actions and gave me space to say yes to what I wanted. I am more optimistic with more energy.”
—Talisha Shine, 46, Woodbridge, VA

“I kicked sh–ty people out of my life. Years ago I had a higher tolerance for others’ drama: Long stories about things that don’t matter. Petty arguments. Bad behavior. After I turned 40, my patience for listening to any of that ran out. As life became more complex with navigating my career, a different home and another relationship, I didn’t want others’ drama to eat up space in my already packed life. Getting people out of your life can be simple. Stop making contact. I absolutely adore the people I’ve kept in my life.” —Twanna A. Hines, 43, Silver Spring, MD

“I decided to leave my full-time job of 17 years at a prime point in my career and go back to school. The first two weeks after leaving my job made me realize how stressed I had been. I’d had trouble sleeping, thinking I missed doing payroll or making a conference call. My staff wasn’t calling my phone. I just needed to breathe. I used the weekends to relax. I worked in my yard, made myself dinner and went to meet a friend for a drink. It was like I finally exhaled. I enjoyed returning to school and getting excited about the new challenge. Now I love being able to spend holidays with family and friends.”
—Erika Nixon, 42, Richmond

“Being by the water relaxes me and brings me peace. It doesn’t matter if I go with girlfriends, my daughters, or even by myself. I’m thinking about the next steps. If I didn’t have anything else to worry about, what would I be doing? What would I love to do? How can I accomplish that? I don’t think about anything to stress me out. The beach clears my mind.”  
–  Kakila Hunter, 48, Union, NJ

In Your 40s


After going through the very emotional ending of a 15-year relationship, I knew I needed a change. My heart just wasn’t in designing flowers for weddings any longer. I needed to do something that would focus on a positive change for me and make me feel good. I wanted to inspire other women. I’ve always loved fashion: When I was in my twenties, I wanted to model. So I started a fashion and lifestyle blog (medleystyle.com) for stylish women over 50. Being able to do something for myself and inspire others in the process is an awesome feeling.” —Janie Medley, 58, Richmond (shown Above)

“I have made a conscious effort to live in gratitude for what I  have instead of dwelling on what I don’t. I made the change because I was tired of yearning for what was not. It made me unhappy. I write down five things a day that I am grateful for, and I start my mornings with affirmations. Throughout the day if I am getting a feeling of lack, ingratitude or disappointment, I refer to my affirmations. I always feel better after I do.” —Angelique Miles, 52, Harlem, NY

“My life was complete, with a great job, a healthy lifestyle and family, but something was still missing. I wondered why I wasn’t the happiest woman on earth. Why wasn’t my relationship with my children as strong as I had hoped? I stopped life and went on a retreat to get direction, reflect on what’s important and learn how to live by prioritizing and being present at all times. I pledged to embrace my power and be grateful for all the gifts God has bestowed upon me. I now live in confidence that I am where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.” —Celeste Wright Harris, 56, Chicago

“One of the things that makes me happy is family and spending time with my sisters. There are six of us. We take a trip together every year, and we even have a family prayer line, where we all get on the line and pray together. It’s something our mom fostered when we were kids. The family that prays together stays together.” —Lucille Scoon, 66, Maplewood, NJ

“Finding your joy can be as simple as giving and receiving a hug. Life can present many challenges, and often the biggest rewards are found in the moments when we make a difference in someone else’s life. I changed how I approach the foster children and teens I work with. Instead of asking them questions, the first thing I do to help them feel better is ask them if it’s okay for me to hug them. The hugs give me permission to help them feel safe and know that for right now everything will be okay. I live this joy every day!” —Paulette Cruz Buchanan, 70, Las Vegas, NV

“Every morning when I wake up, I take the first 15 to 30 minutes to worship. It’s not necessarily a religious worship, because I consider myself more of a spiritual person. I just take time to think about what I’m grateful for. I think about my blessings, my family. I enjoy reading and [saying] affirmations too. I have to take a vitamin of happy thoughts to start my day.” —Valerie Papaya Mann, 65, -Washington, DC, and Fort Lauderdale, FL

“I plan my day the night before. I look at my calendar, and I actually unplug. My cellphone usually
goes off by 8:00 every night. And I mean off. Also I might check my e-mails, but I don’t usually respond to people on Sundays. You start writing people on Sunday, then they start writing you back. You teach people how to treat you.”
—Marsha Haygood, 60s, Sarasota, FL, and Yonkers, NY

“We have a family tradition that on every Thanksgiving, there will be 20 to 35 of us who get together. Dinner’s always at my house, although I have grown children, they make sure they’re here. And that’s the one huge thing that I personally look forward to every year and it makes me happy to plan the whole thing. I start planning a theme for the next year’s event the day after Thanksgiving. And, since I’m the matriarch of the family, I have the honor of picking the theme color every year. I work on it the entire year.” – Elaine Leo, 62, Concord, North Carolina


In Your 50s and Beyond

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