Happy Hours are presented to us with so much promise: Celebratory music, flattering lighting, and all the attractive sensory details that our tired and taxed minds and bodies could ever want. Happy Hours are those coveted breaths between lunch and dinner, when restaurants and bars offer deep discounts for their alcoholic beverages in the hopes that, once the hour is over, you’ll be sufficiently lubricated that you won’t mind paying the full price for your drinks. And we all know that it’s never truly an hour; I know of one clever establishment that offers Happy Hour prices for seven hours of the day. Happy Hour is presented to us as the adult equivalent of a hall pass, a way to get to the front of the line for recess, a way to shake off our cares, and drown ourselves in a carefully curated solution to whatever may be our combination of struggles.

Maybe this is an accurate description of your current situation: A need to shake it off, let it loose, and throw caution to the wind. I understand! And maybe you’re looking for alternatives to the monthly or weekly or daily expenditure, thinking of other ways that you might spend those precious few hours that we have on weeknights. What might you do with yourself if you’re no longer a semi-regular at the crowded rooftop bar, holding a fancy glass and picking at the once-delicious appetizers, talking to others about what you are dreaming of achieving? Here are a few ideas.

1. Pick up where you left off.

I wanted more than Happy Hours are realistically able to provide. One day, I sat down and tried to remember what I used to do with my evenings before going to Happy Hours and networking events, before I began to have a wine or two with dinner, before I started sipping alcohol at all.  What did you do before? Do you remember that life? 

If you are like me, you might need to sit with that reality for a minute — exactly how long has it been? For me, I’ve spent years filling some of my evenings in ways that promised to take the edge off because I am an adult and life can be stressful. I’ve spent years toasting with an alcoholic beverage because I am an adult and life in clubs and bars promised to be full of twirling and fun. And my truth is that sometimes it was mighty entertaining until it stopped being how I wanted to define fun for myself. 

Today, I choose to define my personal joy in ways that are better suited to who I am becoming — with limited regrets about my past. Now that I am ready to look at what makes me truly happy and pursue it, I am not willing to allow myself precious time to wallow in self-pity for what I now see as the derailment of my complete self. For me, it’s time to move on.

2. Define your list of “Happys.”

Make a list. Your list won’t look just like anyone else’s but it will bring you all kinds of joy. Think back: When you picked up your first drink, what was the most memorable thing that you put down? Maybe you played jacks or softball. Maybe you used to memorize poems, or monologues, or lyrics to songs from Broadway musicals. Maybe you built dollhouses or model cars or 3-D puzzles. Maybe you created comic strips. Maybe you used to choreograph line dances to your favorite songs and perform in talent shows. Maybe you took swimming lessons or fencing lessons. Why did you ever stop doing those things that brought you so much happiness? Was it because you no longer had time for such indulgences as an adult? Well, maybe we have time to resume those joys now. Maybe we do.

My list goes back in time to my late childhood and early teens. I was super happy when I made weekly trips to the library — so I offer myself that gift now, preferably right after work on a Friday. I get a big stack of books — ones that I’ve reserved, a few finds from the “new and notable” shelf, and one or two from the stacks. It’s always such an adventure, and I leave giddy every time. 

Why did you ever stop doing those things that brought you so much happiness? Was it because you no longer had time for such indulgences as an adult?

I once loved reading music and playing the piano — so this too has become a Happy Hour practice that requires both my focus and my forgiveness, because it has been a very long time since I’ve played and I have forgotten so much of those intricacies over the course of many Happy Hours.  I am learning a challenging-to-me song every month and hope to have my own little Happy Hour concert once I reach the twelve-month mark.  

I make time to study French. What began as a brief, online lesson a day has expanded to an hour when I can immerse myself in the sounds of this mellifluous language and let all those words wash over me. Soon, I’ll arrange to have live conversations with native speakers — my irregular accent and all. I’m trying. I’m understanding more every day, about French, about me.  I’m making progress.

My list of “Happy’s” includes activities that I can do in solitude and also activities that include others — like concerts, travel, readings, and lectures. I suggest that your list have a bit of both, even if this may seem tricky. It’s great to have choices and options for every occasion.

3. Put yourself first.

Yes, you are a nice person and you deserve to be happy. You deserve to take care of your health, eat nutritious meals, hydrate, and get adequate sleep. You are forever your number one priority and it is your job to take good care of yourself. 

When someone tries to make you feel guilty for refusing to make the choice that they are making, don’t take the bait. You don’t need to prove that you are a nice person by choosing to drink alcohol. You are a nice person and you are making an adult decision with the hopes of exploring an alternative ending. The person who is reluctant to do anything with you except drink is not in the same place that you are now. The person who nudges you to have just one round is not in your body having the life experience that you are having right now. The person who no longer invites you to gatherings, the person who no longer has the time to visit, text, or call — those people are all on their own paths with their own timetables. 

It’s going to be okay — I promise. Life is full of beautiful veneers, and there is more to discover behind each and every surface.

I am learning that happiness is not found in a designated location at a predetermined hour. It is not served in a glass or bestowed from an individual, at their whim. Happy Hour can be any hour of the day that you are articulating your dreams, goals, and visions to yourself, and to others, and turn them into actions. If we are kind to ourselves and keep looking forward, we will be fine.  We have all the time in the world before us — happy hours and all.