On the first day of 2014 the hashtag #100happydays started popping up all over my Facebook and twitter accounts. I did some research (well, I Googled it), and thought it looked brilliant.
Every day you post a picture of something that made you happy.
You're meant to post a picture, you're meant to do it every day for 100 days in a row, and you're meant to register with the website then link the website up with your social media platform of choice.
(That's not quite how I did it in the end but more on that later.)
The website made it very clear that you were supposed to do it for you, not to boast about your life, and that it could be anything that made you happy.
On the first day of 2014 I lived in Walt Disney World, Florida.
I decided against doing #100happydays whilst I was there, mainly because my thinking was that there would probably be a time in the year when I needed it more.
If I was going to do this for myself (as the website insisted you should), I was going to wait until it might be more of a challenge. I was well aware of how wonderful my life was in America, I didn't need to remind myself every day; I thought there might be a time once I was back in the UK that I did.
I knew that my spirits would stay up when I got back from America because my best friend was getting married in May. I got a job I loved still working for Disney, I managed to move into a beautiful flat 20 minutes from Waterloo, and spent my birthday celebrating with a combination of my mum, Disney pals, and Katy Perry.
Then June came. I'd been in my job three months and wasn't totally sure where it was going. I was struggling a bit with some of my colleagues (this might be the first negative thing I've ever posted and I feel horrendously guilty about it already, but it's true. I don't like everyone I meet. I'm learning to come to terms with it.) I still loved my flat and London life but I spent most of the time wishing Dale was there to enjoy it with me. I missed Dale so much it became all I thought about most of the time. I wasn't really seeing my family because I'd moved, Minnie Mouse was on honeymoon and it was a huge effort to see my other friends from home once I was living in London.
I decided this was the time that I had been saving #100happydays for.
Even the thought of what could happen in the next 100 days cheered me up.
As most of you will know I am horrendous with commitment and routine. I like everything to be different all the time, I love having new experiences and meeting new people, and I like to be as uncommitted as possible at all times so that I never know what's going to happen next.
Nothing was looking like it was going to change any time soon, and I couldn't pinpoint what I actually wanted to change, so the idea of measuring the next 100 days was hugely exciting. Who knew what would happen? I realised that even every day that I woke up I didn't know what might wander into my life- especially living in London. How exciting.
On day 1 I got to work and someone from the theatre who I didn't know hugely well, and who only worked one show a week, had bought me a Belle mug and a Disney Princess bag because she'd missed my birthday.
On day 2 I got an email from the people I used to work for in Italy asking me to go back and work for them for three weeks. They were short staffed and needed someone urgently.
On day 3 my wonderful managers at The Lion King said they'd sort it that I could go.
On day 4 we went out for drinks after work and I realised that The New Boy who had started that week was amazing, and that he himself might save me from my slump.
On day 5 I started reading The Fault in Our Stars- the best book I have ever read. You know when you read a book and you just know that something has shifted inside of you, that you will never quite be the same again? It hasn't happened to me many times either, but it did with this one. I doubt very much that I will ever find a book that I could fall in love with quite so deeply again.
On day 7 I finished reading The Fault in Our Stars, and on day 8, The New Boy and I went to the cinema to watch it: sealing, I believe, our friendship forever. Once you've watched an adult man sob his way through an entire film, you're probably stuck with him for life.
And so week 1 was over. I had a brand new Belle mug, felt cared for by the lady that worked once a week at the theatre, had the prospect of three weeks in Italy looming in front of me, and had finally made a true friend in London that wanted to hang out and do all the same things as me. (The New Boy became Simba, by the way, a regularly featured character in this blog.)
And I knew that by the time I arrived home from Italy, Dale would be back on UK soil.
So much to be #happy about already. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
I decided against posting every single day, I didn't want to drive everyone mad (although I think I probably did annoy a few people. I'm not sorry.)
And so I managed to make my 100 days last from my birthday to New Year's Day (that's 216 days, so quite an achievement, really.)
But it did make me take note of what I was thankful for every single day; and I believe that it did make me happier. Or remind me to be happier, at least. And I'm generally quite a happy person anyway.
Now I'm not going to bore you with all 98 things that have made me happy so far (chances are I've done that over the past 214 days), nor will I tell you all the things that made me happy on the days I didn't post, but here are a few examples of things that I wasn't able to be publicly thankful for at the time...
1. The night before Pumbaa's wedding.
I finished work, walked to Holborn and caught two trains before I was back at my car and anywhere near getting to her house. I called her. They'd saved me some pizza and vegetarian jacket potato toppers. I could hear them all being excited in the background, and so I quickly hung up saying I'd see them in fifteen minutes.
It might not sound like the most mind-blowing phone call of all time but I think it was casual air of it all that got me. That now I was able to just pop and see my friends on important nights like this. No flights, no Skype, I was just there. As I threw my phone onto the passenger seat and began to drive I got that same ridiculously warm, teary feeling I get when I watch cheesy films that I'm aware I shouldn't get emotional at (Hotel For Dogs, for crying out loud?!) but can't help myself.
2. The time I finally got to spend a day hanging out with a Princess.
Barnardo's Community Fundraisers were throwing a Frozen ball in Hertfordshire and ideally wanted their Guest of Honour to be somebody from Arendelle. Thankfully, they managed to arrange for Elsa to go, and I was the one lucky enough to be friends with her for the day. We stood outside the door whilst children and adults alike chanted I believe in children. On the third chant, we walked in to the sound of Let It Go.
It was emotional for all involved I believe: some children were so beside themselves in excitement they didn't know what to do, some children were terrified, and the parents were a brilliant combination of emotional and outrageously competitive to get their child in a photo with her. I did get emotional; but not until Let Me Go by Gary Barlow came on- when a little girl who shares the name I want for my daughter came up to me dressed as Snow White and said she was dressed as my friend, she hoped that was okay.
I spent the afternoon answering questions about Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven, watched children's dreams come true as they danced, chatted, and posed with their hero, and was lucky enough to then go out for dinner in the real world with Dale. What a magical day.
3. Popping to see my Grandma and Grandad.
I've got into the habit of popping to see my grandparents on a Monday. I wish I could video it for you all. I always try desperately to remember everything they say but I've inevitably forgotten by the time I go to my mum.
I do remember, however, that when I visited them a few weeks ago my Grandma interrupted herself to say: "Ooh Derek, that reminds me, we must make sure we don't forget to pick up the Santa suit," and then carried on as though what she'd said was perfectly normal between a couple in their seventies.
I then went the following Monday to discover that they had used the Santa suit.
They had organised the Christmas party for their Bowls Club (I think it was their Bowls club, they do a few clubs and I can't keep up), and it had been hugely successful. They asked someone to dress up in the Santa suit they had organised (he looked very good, apparently), and at some point during the night my Grandad announced: if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear Santa's sleigh bells. Then Santa came in.
At this point of telling the story my Grandad chuckled and said: they're all old people, you know. But they loved it.
As though he's a 17 year old boy providing entertainment at the local retirement home.
Santa then handed out the presents that my Grandma had requested everyone brought with them, and they played some games.
I hope I'm that much fun in forty-seven years.
4) My Christmas Evening with Madame Adelaide.
At the beginning of December I went along to a Friends and Family Christmas Discount Evening at my friend's beautiful shop in Maldon, with Madame Adelaide who had made the unbelievable cupcakes for the occasion. I bumped into a friend that I worked with whilst I was at college and haven't seen since, and had a lovely catch up with her. I wandered around the shop- only just stopping myself from buying everything I laid my hands on, bought the few things I couldn't put down (all for me, I am so bad at Christmas shopping), then went for a drink with Madame.
We walked in the seasonably cold weather to the tiny, cosy coffee shop next door, and ordered huge, Cadbury's-Flake-and-marshmallow-filled hot chocolates. We spent the evening catching up on anything and everything, enjoying the Christmas music that was playing (well we enjoyed it until we realised it was just the one song on repeat, then it got annoying), and putting the world to rights. Everything that Christmas is about.
5) Dinner with the blended family.
A few weeks ago my little brother Chip met a girl who lives in Twickenham. He went there to see her twice before she arranged to come to Essex to see him. Chip mentioned to Dad that she was coming here this time. So Dad did what any self-respecting father would do. Text the entire family inviting them to a big dinner, and booked a restaurant.
So Chip's third date with this girl involved her meeting the entire family.
The dinner was brilliant. Mowgli and his girlfriend were hilarious, as always. Dad's girlfriend had one glass too many and made a totally inappropriate and very funny comment to Chip and his new girl. Dad insisted on making stupid Dad jokes, and his girlfriend's children took it all in their stride.
They're official now, if you're interested.
6) The Lion King Leaving Party.
Okay, honestly, Disney didn't hire out a club in Trafalgar Square because I left. I'm sure they would have done, but my leaving date happened to land on the 15th anniversary so they probably thought they'd kill two birds with one stone.
And so after my last, very emotional shift, I was presented with an outrageous number of presents from the superstars I worked with, and then we all made our way to Trafalgar Square for a brilliant night.
I was chatting to one guy for half an hour before I realised he was actual Timon. I can't even begin to explain how excited I was. I did attempt to speak to the actor who plays Simba but, unfortunately, I have an outrageous, teenage-girl crush on him and fall apart when he walks into the room. I've a few embarrassing stories thanks to that particular fact, but I'll not go into them now.
I talked to so many amazing people from so many parts of the show, and will be forever proud and honoured to have been a part of that anniversary.
I will not be forever proud that the front of house manager had to walk me to Leicester Square, put me in a taxi, and later check that my slurring, swaying wine-fuelled self had made it home safely. (Although I will be forever grateful that he did that.)
I am thankful for so many parts of this year. I'm thankful for at least one thing that's happened every single day of this year, and I will genuinely miss my #100happydays.
A couple of years ago I mentioned The Empty Jar idea, you know, where you write something down every day that made you happy so that when you feel down about the world or life you can look in the jar and instantly find a series of happy memories. I didn't end up doing that because I moved to America at the beginning of the year and just didn't get round to it. This year however, I have two gorgeous jars decorated with Disney characters thanks to my self-indulgent time at the Friends and Family discount night in December, and so will be continuing my own personal #100happydays at home.
I would totally recommend doing something like this. It highlights how wonderful your life really is, and helps you to see the Little Wonders that fill your days.