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81 Ways to Locate Happiness During the Bleakest of Days

Fires. Hurricanes. Shootings. Trump. It's been a massive bummer of a year. But, despite it all, Bay Areans found their happy place. Here's how.


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Let's face it: 2017 was massive bummer. No matter who you were or where you lived, the world seemed to have it in for you. Wine country and Southern California burned. Houston nearly drowned. Puerto Rico, without power or water, was virtually left to rot. Deranged men with guns killed innocents from Las Vegas to Texas to Tehama County. The far left and far right battled on the streets of Berkeley, costing the city and its university millions of dollars. Seemingly every famous man you could think of was revealed to be a pig. The newspapers disseminated a map of the damage that a North Korean nuke would wreak if it exploded in the center of San Francisco. It turned out that two of our homegrown companies—Twitter and Facebook—enabled botnets and Russian influence peddlers who sought to undermine our democracy. Uber did Uber stuff. Liars lied. Tom Petty died. And, oh yeah, Donald Trump kept being Donald Trump.

Everything was bad. Yet life still went on. We married. We had babies. We kissed and hugged and danced with our children. We quit our jobs and got new ones. We sang, marched, wasted time on the Internet, contorted our bodies into imperfect downward dogs, adopted adorable puppies, hollered at basketball games, stayed up too late, slept in too late, drank too much, and laughed, whether at the news or in spite of it. We were, as ever, resilient.

In that spirit, San Francisco asked hundreds of Bay Areans: How did you cope? Where did you find moments of respite? Who did you lean on? In their own words, here’s what 81 respondents had to say. Happiness is still out there.


Daniel Handler
Author and Close Friend of Lemony Snicket
I read a lot of poetry—at the breakfast table instead of the newspaper, in the airport instead of CNN on the screen, in my living room instead of despairing. I read Eileen Myles. I read Brenda Shaughnessy. I read Morgan Parker. I read Tommy Pico. And when I ran out of poets I read Oakland’s own Matthew Zapruder’s book Why Poetry, which explains what I’m trying to say better than I can.

Shanthi Sekaran
Author, Lucky Boy
No amount of biking in the hills or playing with kittens is going to make me feel better, for any significant length of time, about living in this country. All I can aim for are moments of distraction. Issa Rae and Insecure make me happy. As do Aziz Ansari and Master of None, particularly the latest season, when he escapes to Italy. As do the poetry of Kim Addonizio and Ellen Bass. I saw a biopic about Tupac Shakur called All Eyez On Me, which was kind of corny but also great, and I loved it. Sometimes I’ll find a good gluten-free sandwich. Also, date-coffee shakes. These are momentary distractions. The only deeply embedded, double-edged comfort lies in the knowledge that this is my country. Mine. I belong here, in this country that for so long has ignored brown people and now vilifies them. And it doesn’t feel safe anymore, and I wonder if it ever was safe or if I was just telling myself a story. I would find solace in my children, only I fear for them as well. I do, I suppose, find moments of respite when I bury my nose in their hair or press my lips to their cheeks. But they’re children, and eventually, they run off.

Natalie Baszile
Author, Queen Sugar
This year, art has been my path through the darkness, my sword and my shield. The works by artists, specifically African American artists, that I’ve encountered in the last 12 months— Arthur Jafa’s video essay Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death; Kerry James Marshall’s paintings in his recent exhibition, Mastry; Carrie Mae Weems’s photography; and Karon Davis’s sculpture, among others—have challenged and inspired me to demand more of myself: to work harder, to think more critically, to love more deeply, to be more courageous. Unflinching and unapologetic, affirming and celebratory, art has been my salvation, a means of catharsis, and the source of strength and tremendous joy.

Florie Hutchinson
Media Strategist
I made an emoji of a ballet flat. No joke: most cathartic thing I have done in a long time.

Janet Ozzard
Managing Editor, SFMOMA
Repeat-watching funny shows. BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, New Girl. When I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about climate change, Zooey Deschanel helps me.

Madeline Kenney
I’ve been listening to ’70s and ’80s synth and electronic music from South Africa. It’s like the happiest-sounding music ever, and it reminds me that while our situation is pretty bad, it’s not as bad as apartheid.

Samuel Sattin
Author, Legend
I bury myself in comics. Literally. Towers of books wobble at my bedside. I don’t organize them. I just let them pile up and get knocked about by my cats.

Sayre Piotrkowski
Beer Consultant
Two words: “Bodak Yellow.”

John Windle
Owner, The William Blake Gallery
Meditating with a visionary like William Blake, by reading his timeless words and pondering his images, puts this petty time and place into perspective. Auguries of Innocence remains my favorite, as well as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.”

Woody LaBounty
I don’t know if it’s the healthiest, but I have definitely coped by living in the past. As part of the OpenSFHistory project, this year alone I have personally looked at more than 20,000 street scenes, picnics, and parades; people posing in front of monuments, businesses, and new homes; people visiting presidents, greeting arriving battleships, and strolling the wide boulevards of World’s Fairs. I love seeing the smiles on the faces of artists at the Parilia Ball in 1938; the kids, the fashions, the faces in the crowds; the goofy chorus girls mugging with firefighters. Even the old terrible images of war, protests, refugees, or death (such as the collapse of the Valencia Street Hotel during the 1906 earthquake) make me grateful for what I do have today.



Meghan Walsh
Freelance Journalist
I went into 2017 pretty hopeless. Then I decided to adopt a pair of 18-month-old twins from Haiti. I can’t do much about government corruption or corporate greed, but I can give these abandoned children a safe, loving home.

Ro Khanna
This year, my wife, Ritu, and I were blessed with a baby boy. There is no joy that even comes close. Best year of my life.

Susan Work
Interior Designer
We had a baby! Nothing like bringing a new human into these dark and tumultuous times. It’s working.

Gabi Moskowitz
Food Blogger, Brokeass Gourmet
In August, I found out that I was pregnant! We hadn’t been trying, but we hadn’t exactly been not trying, either.

Hillary Ronen
San Francisco Supervisor
On most weekdays I rush out of City Hall, returning the phone messages collected throughout the day on my drive to pick up my daughter, Maelle, from her after-school program. When she sees me, she yells, “Mommy!” and runs into my arms. On the car ride home she tells me stories from the day or sings “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” We cook dinner, dance, play bingo, watch a cartoon, draw or paint, or “play family” until bath time. And the negotiations begin again, ending in the nightly chase into the bathroom. We both run as fast as we can, screaming along the way. She never wants to get in, and once in, never wants to get out. She always asks me to tickle her until she’s laughing so hard she can’t breathe. It always ends in the hiccups. And without exaggeration, hearing that laugh is the best thing I have ever experienced in my life.

Erick Pari
Barista and Tech Worker
As an undocumented person, the fear of being detained or deported keeps spinning in my head, but the day I got to marry my beautiful wife, Aimee, was the happiest moment in my life.

Samantha Geno
Marketing Strategist
My husband proposed to me the day after Trump’s inauguration, so we focused on having the best party and honeymoon ever. We’ll let you know how it goes in 2018 without a big wedding to distract us.

Justin Boitano
Vice President of Marketing and Development, Frame
We discovered that our two-year-old Weimaraner dog, Kona, is a runway supermodel! She won Best Dog in the San Carlos Hometown Days Pet Parade and has since launched her modeling career.

Elisabeth Jay Friedman
Chair, USF Politics Department
On election night 2016, we gave in and let our Lab-pit mix get on the couch, upholstery be damned. Jolene now anchors our family snugglefests in front of the television.


Drag Queen
Right at the beginning of a crappy year—and this was after we had all talked about how lame 2016 was—I was asked if I would “foster” a cat named Dexter. I put the quotation marks around the word because I know what a softy I am. The cat was homeless, and he was going to be mine forever. Yes, I’m a bitchy drag queen and people can drive me nuts, but I have a huge soft spot for animals. He’s really great, he loves chicken, and he has a cold, wet nose. He’s also really affectionate and needy and follows me all around the apartment.

Daniel Lurie
CEO and Founder, Tipping Point Community
I find happiness with my two young kids. Wrestling with them and tickling them until they begin laughing uncontrollably is a common occurrence in our house. It brings a smile to my face the minute I think about it.

I have two children. I teach them the right values and what is true.

Ken Mancuso
Real Estate
We took our kids to the Women’s March.



Kim Chambers
Long-Distance Swimmer
I feel extremely fortunate to have access to the magnificent San Francisco Bay. When I am in the water, the curiosity of the harbor seals always amuses me as they suddenly and playfully appear, their whiskers tickling my feet or their heads popping up in front of me as if to say, “Please observe the lane rules in my swimming pool.”

Aaron Peskin
San Francisco Supervisor
I was happiest this year when we finally passed our inclusionary housing legislation, but the time I tuned it all out the most was when I traveled to Iceland in August for 14 days of incredible backpacking.

Aaron Axelsen
Music Director, Live 105
My happy place is softball. I play three days a week in three different leagues. Mondays are in San Francisco, Wednesdays in Alameda, Fridays in Oakland. I’m really into it. Like, I buy a new bat every year. This year, I even organized a big softball tournament at this radio convention we go to in Louisville. It was the West Coast programmers versus the East Coast programmers. We won. Music people are always asking me, like, “You missed the U2 show?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I had a softball game.”

Shauna Harrison
Fitness Trainer
Running the sand ladder at Baker Beach is super high on my list of happy places. Getting out of my head and into my body is pure bliss.

Alexandra Harbour
Associate Program and Operations Manager, Powerhouse
In the past year, I’ve picked up bouldering at my climbing gym. In bouldering, climbing routes are called “problems,” and fellow climbers are always around to help when you find yourself stuck. It’s nice to remember that with community, we can solve collective problems.

Chloe Roth
When I feel paralyzed, I dip my feet—and sometimes my body—into the freezing water of the ocean. It instantaneously changes my brain chemistry and reminds me why I work so hard to live in San Francisco.
Susan MacTavish Best
Founder, Living MacTavish
I head for tree-lined trails of the Marin Headlands and I run. And run. And run. Sometimes I stop and have a sit on a bench and soak in the view. And then I run some more. To be clear, I’m in no rush. I enjoy the journey. I find the smell of the outdoors, the chirping of the birdies, the naughty Marin deer and wild turkeys soothing for my soul. These trees have seen many bosses and presidents and bad boyfriends come and go.



Matthew Zapruder
Poet and Professor, Saint Mary's College
The other day, feeling gloomy about tax bills and sex scandals and our inability to get over our worst selves, I drove to Chabot Elementary School in the rain. Each year the school organizes Oakland Day, when instead of the ordinary classes, artists and professionals teach workshops on their areas of expertise: Native American cooking, making maps, dance, sports, technology, or, in my case, poetry. I sat for an hour in a classroom with 10 or so fourth and fifth graders. We read out loud from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions. Then we wrote poems to the rain, asking it questions, and imagined being animals in the zoo, asking ourselves what questions they would ask us. Lately I’ve found it so hard to be inspired and free in my imagination: Just being in a room with these amazing, funny, sweet, excited kids reminded me that the imagination is a force of immense power and positivity, and that the future does not belong to those without it.

Eliot Peper
Author, Neon Fever Dream
My wife and I realized we needed to do something to help build the kind of country we want to live in. So we volunteered with a resettlement program. Since June, we’ve been hosting a refugee from Uganda in our home. It’s been an incredible experience as we learn about each other’s cultures and help him figure out everything from how to write a résumé to why kids in scary costumes showed up at our front door on October 31.

Lexi Butler
Project Manager, AirBNB
I started a black-women-in-tech group to fellowship with like-minded women who could understand me professionally and personally.

Collin Sullivan
Human Rights Program Associate, Benetech
I helped to start a small discussion group. It came about as a response to the #metoo movement and is designed to be a safe and supportive place for men to talk with each other about ways we have contributed to or benefited from patriarchy and rape culture, and how we might work to redefine masculinity in our own lives.

I helped with donations for the fires in North Bay. You’ve just got to be nice to people.

Clayton Hopkins
Designer, Lab Zero Innovations
I began volunteering on civic tech projects. I’m super proud of volunteering with the Dulles Justice Coalition team, in particular, by designing and launching to help travelers affected by the Muslim travel ban in D.C.

Lauren Strongin
Soloist, San Francisco Ballet
In a strange way, the events of the past year have helped me to stand up for what I believe in. I was concerned with environmental issues, so I became a vegetarian. I volunteered at the Salvation Army over the holiday season and made meals at 18 Reasons for fire victims. I continue to meditate and attend the San Francisco Zen Center, which helps me keep perspective, although I still curse when I read some of the news. I’m a work in progress.

P Segal
Founder, Bohemia Redux
I signed on to the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, which investigates inefficiency and other problems in city government and makes recommendations for improvement. The city government is obliged to read civil grand jury reports and act—or defend its refusal to do so. It was one way to mitigate the helplessness and do something about the changes to my native city that I find appalling. The power of taking action is sweet.

Shoshana Berger
Editorial Director, Ideo
While cowriting a practical guide to the end of life over the past year, I talked to a lot of people who are dying or have lost someone. Turns out thinking about death every day is a pretty good way of reminding you not to do things you don’t give a hoot about.

Carly Nairn
Bookseller, Dog Eared Books
I joined a Marxist book club. It’s mostly the booksellers here and at Alley Cat Books. It’s pretty informal.


Abhay Nadkarni
Stand-Up Comedian
There’s this place called Deccan Spice in the Mission—it has some of the best South Indian food in town, and it’s open until 3 a.m. I like those late-night eats. I recommend the chili chicken and the goat biryani.

Caleb Pershan
Reporter, Eater SF
Sheet cake.

Ari Cannonier
Intern, 826 Valencia
For a while I was a vegetarian, then I woke up one day and said, “Hey, I miss bacon.”

Brock Keeling
Editor, Curbed SF
Nothing quieted the chatter inside my skull better than watching process-heavy programming, from Jackie Aina’s makeup tutorials to The Great British Bake Off. I wish I could say nature, meditation, or general enlightenment did the trick, but learning about age-defying primer and proper Victoria sponge cake techniques is what got me through 2017.

Patrick Wei
Product Manager
One-on-one meals with close friends. Palo Alto Creamery is a favorite.

Karen Leibowitz
CoFounder, The Perennial
Baking has restored my peace of mind. There’s a meditative quality to working with my hands, learning how to handle a new grain—we use a regenerative grain called kernza, which was developed by activists to draw down CO2 and restore soil—and staring through the oven window as my loaves turn brown. It feels like the complete opposite of sitting at the computer. In this moment, it’s helpful to find a task that is both simple and significant. As I go through all the steps of bread making, I am happy and calm. The environmental impact of kernza is the icing on the cake—or perhaps the butter on my bread.

Gordon Smith
Certified Massage Therapist
My inner joy comes from passing juggling clubs with a group of friends called the Flinging Fools. We form different patterns, right- and left-handed throws and right- and left-handed catches, all timed so that as the clubs fly through the air they don’t collide with one another. It might be a pattern called April’s Triangles of Doom. Maybe Civil War Half and Half, perhaps Torture Chamber or Cockeyed Apollo. When we complete the whole pattern, the joy passes from one juggler to another, just like the clubs do.



Jenny Dearborn
Artist, Film Producer, and Senior Vice President At SAP 
I wrote a plan of what I could do to make myself feel better. This is my actual list, which is taped to my bathroom mirror at home: • Anxiety: Delete news alerts off phone—read a real newspaper. • Attention: Don’t carry phone on my body—leave it in bag on silent. • Relationships: Make list of friends I wish I had more time for—schedule lunch and coffee dates. • Slow Down and Express Gratitude: Send a handwritten note to a different person every day— thanking them for something they have done.

Aurora Drenning-Ribeiro
Cocktail Waitress
I broke up with my boyfriend, my friend totaled my car, I had surgery, and then there were the fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. So I moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Since then, it’s been great.

Kieran Snow
High School Student
I play video games, shooters especially. But that’s not very positive.

Kaitlin Chassagne
USF Student
I started taking ceramics classes through Sharon Art Studio in Golden Gate Park, and it had such a positive impact on my mental well-being. I can’t touch my phone because my hands are caked in clay, and it’s quiet, except for maybe classical music on the radio.

Bianca Sotelo
I signed up for therapy.

Stephanie Weisman
Founder, The Marsh
For the past year I’ve been taking singing lessons, and I did a solo performance. I sang from first to sixth grade but peaked at the age of 12. This time, I found out that I can write songs. I wrote seven of them, and it’s the most fantastic thing ever. They’re not the most brilliant songs in the world, but they’re good enough, and who knows—they may be brilliant!

Mandy Edwards
I don’t know, I really don’t. I went to rehab twice. I just made it through. Yeah, I’m OK, even though Trump got elected on my birthday.

Michael Krasny
Host, Forum, KQED; Professor, SFSU
I have two escape hatches. One is reading poetry. I’m a literature professor, but poetry has always struck me as a genre unto its own. The other is more of a surprise, except to people who know me. I enjoy, though not as often as I would like, playing in Texas Hold’em tournaments.

Soren Zitoun
Real Estate Consultant
I sit down with my friends and smoke some weed.

Kevin Anderson
More board games, less news.

Nitin Chauhan
Software Engineer, Crosschannel
I play pool at Moon’s Family Sports Pub in San Mateo. Lesley Sutter CHEF What are the options? I wake up and go to work.

Noah Cho
English Teacher, Marin Country Day School
As a teacher, the best way to cope is to come to work every day. Never in my teaching career have students been this ready to fix the world.

C.W. Nevius
Former Chronicle Columnist
I am writing, and hope to perform, a one-man show at the Marsh theater. Now, this would be a lovely story if I were any good. Instead, I’m not even as good as I thought I was. I rehearse every Monday, and it scares the crap out of me. I forget lines. The writing, which I figured would be my strong suit, doesn’t really translate to the stage. Insecurity runs rampant, yet when rehearsal is over, I’m exhilarated. I record all the sessions, and on Tuesdays I put in earbuds, walk along a hiking trail next to the bay, listen, and make notes. Then I find a secluded spot and declaim my lines out over the waves. One day, a private security guy drove by me slowly in a weaponized golf cart, squinting suspiciously as I talked to myself. He clearly thought I was either nuts or up to something. It’s a little of both. I’m no actor, but I get to impersonate one. I’m not a playwright, but get to pretend. And sometime soon, there’s actually going to be a play. Theoretically.

Michelle Tea
Author, Black Wave
This was the year I discovered Korean spas. I know I am late to this self-care game; I could tell how late by the amount of dead skin that rolled off my body. If the current climate has got you feeling dead in the heart and sickened from emotional eating, knowing that you can just slough off your sickly old skin cells and emerge with a brand-new, gleaming skin suit is both a fabulous metaphor and a literal comfort. To those who fear the pain, I say, yes, it hurts. But not as much as this administration.

Jordan Kurland
Co-owner, Noise Pop
I’ve cut back on travel. I have a job that requires many hours on airplanes, but in 2017, I’ve done my best to avoid nonessential trips. It’s allowed me to stay in a routine and live a healthier, more focused existence.



Robert Kelley
Founding Artistic Director, Theatreworks Silicon Valley
Whenever I can, I go to the Sea Ranch in Sonoma County, where I hunt mushrooms and pretend to fish.

Cheryl Haines
Principal, Haines Gallery
I am fortunate to have a property in Nevada City, and the beauty of the place and the remarkable community there has provided a place of sanctuary.

Mei Shih
College Student
I went to Alaska.

Maya Tanizaki
Account Manager, Google
We went to New York and Los Angeles, and we’re headed to Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.

Jason Katz
I went on a photography road trip to 15 states.

Daikha Dridi
Editor, International Boulevard
I flew to Algeria.

Simone Oppen
Graduate Student
I had already left the United States for Greece to do dissertation research, so I decided to stay away from the U.S. permanently.

Sam Laird
Around summer, I started spending way less time on Twitter, going from checking it throughout the day to taking a quick look maybe once a month. It had become such an acrimonious place, and it’s not difficult to stay informed in other ways. I do find myself breathing easier. Also, I moved to Spain.



Maura Lafferty
Public Relations, Firebrand
In spring 2017, I entered into the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, a retreat in everyday life. I’ve swapped out an hour of TV time for prayer and meditation each evening. I meet with a spiritual director once a week at Saint Agnes Church’s Ignatian Spiritual Life Center, a miniretreat in the middle of the city. Like Mary Karr describes in her memoir Lit, we discuss life, family, and anything that’s relevant that week, like the #metoo hashtag or Pokémon Go, while looking out at trendy joggers on the Panhandle or at the beautiful hand-folded paper cranes hanging in the garden window.

Karen Lott
Life Coach and Philanthropist
Our daughter, Hailey, teaches meditation and has introduced my husband, Ronnie, and me to various ways to meditate. My favorite is the most simple, repeating a mantra like “Thank you.” When my mind wanders, I go back to noticing my breath and let my thoughts just be thoughts.

Cedric Johnson

Mark Bowlby

Rebekah Right

Gordon Hacket
General Laborer
I trust in the Lord and try to keep my mind where it should be.

Dan Hoyle
Actor and Playwright
People are hungry for connection and conversation—to not feel alone. As Obama said in his farewell address, “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, go talk to one in real life.” This has always been my creed, but I find it’s more rewarding than ever. Even smiling and joking in random interactions with folks, you never know who you are going to meet. And at the very least it’s a way of saying, “Hey, I got your back.” We are all in this together.

TM Kessler
My sister is a shaman, and I have been attending her journeying groups in Oakland at the Shine Center. We are all lying down. The room is very dimly lit, with candles and burning sage. She opens a sacred space and calls to the ancestral elders from the north, east, south, and west. She explains about beta, REM, and theta waves, and then she drums. We are led on a journey and call for our spirit animals—mine are a black jaguar and an orca whale. She has also done illuminations and clearings for me, as well as work on my sleep paralysis. Right now she has advised having my bedroom filled with clear crystal quartz, which I now sleep with to fight off the demons.

Carlos Galvez
I started medication, thank fuck.



Mark Dowdie
Why should I be unhappy? There have been worse years. And there are some contenders. The economy crashed in 1929. Kristallnacht only lasted for two days in 1938, but it spoiled the whole year for my wife’s family in Europe. The plague hit the world in 1348 and wiped out millions. They were all fairly bad years. The U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861 and the Titanic went down in 1912, but Oreo cookies were invented a few months later. But when it comes right down to worse years than 2017, I find myself wandering back to around 75,000 BC, when a volcano erupted on Sumatra and sent the world into a decade of lifeless winter.


Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco

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