The happiest time of my life… by Sarah McInerney, John Boyne, Marian Keyes and more

It’s world happiness day on Sunday. We asked some people when they have been happiest

Sharing happy memories may seem glib in a time of war and sorrow, but it is also the time when many of us feel the need to reach for the warmth and joy of the past, those moments when the world seemed a little less ugly. On the eve of World Happiness Day, we asked a range of people to share their happiest memories (they were not allowed to mention babies or weddings). Here is what they said…

Paul Howard, author

I got thrown out of the Gaeltacht when I was 13 for speaking English. I did not speak Irish at the time because I had been in England until the age of 9. You got kicked out if you spoke Irish more than twice and it was a miracle I lasted two weeks. One day I was at the table in the bean an tí’s house and I asked someone “could you pass the bread”. An older boy called Fionnan grassed me up. I was shaken awake at 7am the next day and told “tá tú ag dul abhaile”. I was put in a car and driven from Muirioch on the Dingle Peninsula to Tralee. I was sitting in the back of this gaelgeoir’s car, a tough, unsmiling woman who apparently loved Irish so much she did not have a word of consolation for the kid crying his eyes out in the back seat of her car. I cried all the whole way to the train station. We did not have a phone in the house, so I had no way of knowing how my mother and father were feeling about what had happened – they’d spent a lot of money to send me there. Just before I got on the train, the woman who had driven me said: “Your dad left a message, he said to tell you not to worry, they love you very much and they are really looking forward to having you home.” Ever since, I have measured all my happiness against how I felt in that moment.

Ivana Bacik, Labour TD

The happiest times for me are the times when I am swimming in the sea – anywhere in the world, at any time of the year, but in particular every week when I experience immense joy in stepping or jumping off the ladder at the Half Moon club on the South Wall in Poolbeg, Dublin, immersing myself in the clear cold water and floating with my toes in the air, ideally while basking in the sunshine. Pure Bliss!

Jennifer O’Connell, journalist

Lots of words have been written about how an icy dip in the salty grey sea is the key to happiness – most of them by newly-minted DryRobe owners. But for me, avoiding the dip is the point. My happiest hours are those spent alone on the water in my Laser 4.7 dinghy, when nothing exists in the world but the relationship between wind and sail, waves and keel. I rediscovered sailing in my 40s, and could not care less about the races I will not win or how ridiculous I look in my wetsuit. I am too busy feeling alive.


John Boyne, author

In July 1996 I began the only full-time job I would ever hold, at Waterstone’s Bookshop on Dawson Street. Twenty-five, just graduated from UEA Norwich, and flat broke, I was hired by Anne Griffin, who would go on to be a bestselling novelist in her own right. She often recalls the dashing young man who arrived for the interview in a red sports jacket and carrying a briefcase. I guess they worked, because I got the job. I spent seven years there but the first was the best. I loved working with books and interacting with customers. The staff were young, and many had ambitions in the arts. I woke every morning at 5am to write for two hours and was convinced, through a mixture of arrogance and self-belief, that I was destined to become a great writer. The days were fun, the nights in the Duke were epic, and I snogged, or tried to snog, every unfortunate boy who crossed my path. I do not think I’ve ever been as happy.

Joanne O’Riordan, sports columnist

When I wake up every morning on the weekend, I have a huge smile on my face because I know what day it is – it is game day. Game day is not just about the designated few hours standing on a pitch, letting 30 people dictate your mood for the rest of the week. Game day is about camaraderie, friendships, the socialising along the way. Every game day is different. Every day I meet someone new, hear different stories, and every experience is extraordinary. Game day is a metaphor for how everyone’s week has gone. If you’re frustrated, let it out. If you’re happy, sit with a smile on your face. More importantly, it’s a metaphor for how your upcoming week will go. Because like the athletes, you must leave it all out there, except for hope and the ability to do your best. Happiness to me is game day.

Marian Keyes, author

I remember being really happy on Easter Sunday 2021. It was my brother Niall’s birthday, some restrictions had eased, and the whole family were gathered in my back garden to celebrate. My mother was there, and that was made more special by the fact that she had not been touched, or barely even seen, by us over those brutal months of the third lockdown. And while we knew The Awfulness was far from over, that day was joyous with nieces and nephews everywhere; we had an Easter egg hunt and at one point my little niece Hannah decided to go for a swim in the water feature. We siblings were all sort of healing from my dad’s death and had come to that point where we could talk about him easily. I just remember the utter delight of saying “feck this” and hugging each other and eating sweets and pizza and birthday cake and not wearing masks. Even the weather played ball. My mother, who doesn’t have much stamina, sat outside in the sunshine for hours. I just remember feeling so grateful and yes, completely happy.

Patrick Freyne, journalist and author

One of the times I was happiest was when I was struggling as a freelance journalist, and I won an award. Some people say that awards are not important and that it is the taking part that counts. Frankly that is loser talk from people who do not have an award. My wife Anna noted that though I was happy for the few days after I won the award, I quickly returned to my usual sulky self a few days later. She suggested that I would probably be happy if she made a big deal of presenting me with the award every morning at breakfast, possibly with a speech. I thought this was a great idea. It turns out she was “joking”.

Kit de Waal, author

I was standing by the shore near the sand dunes in Kilmore quay in Wexford. I had been really struggling with a character and a scene in my second novel and all of a sudden with the waves over my feet and the blue horizon stretching ahead of me I understood what happened next in the book. I felt like all the pieces of me came together, me as a writer, me as a lover of the sea, me as an Irish woman and just for a brief moment, I felt totally happy and at peace.

Senator Lynn Ruane

I have been happiest each and every morning when sat in an open top landrover, with the sun rising in Mozambique. A handmade poncho over me, holding a hot chocolate in a tin cup. Waiting to see if the day would bring lions or leopards. The stillness. The sounds. The skies. And sometimes the wild would unfold in front me in a way that meant I felt part of something bigger.

Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science

I am probably at my happiest when I am on a long walk on the beach or in the woods with my family. But if I was to choose a time I was happiest – excluding all the important family occasions and milestones in life – I am thinking back to growing up in Greystones and the carefree summer holidays. Football mini-league, Greystones Summer Project, community fun days: such simple happy times where we all came together, had the craic and enjoyed hanging out. Things we probably took for granted at the time but things that helped shape and mould us as all we grew up and created happy memories and friendships that stay with you for life.

Zainab Boladale, journalist and presenter

My “most happiest” moment so far has to have been on holiday in Cyprus with my best friend, in September. It was our first sun holiday in two years, so naturally we were excited. I have a huge fear of heights which I wanted to challenge, so I did something I had never done before, which was to jump from the side of a large boat into the sea. Being able to conquer that fear before my 25th birthday felt like an amazing achievement, and every time I think about that moment, it brings a smile to my face.

Kathleen MacMahon, author

I am generally at my happiest sitting in my kitchen on an ordinary Saturday morning. My family are asleep upstairs – when they appear there will be eggs and newspapers, and plans will be made for the day ahead – but for now it is me and the dog and the radio and a cup of coffee. I like to sit in the wash of sunlight from the window, surrounded by the peace of my own house. It is terrible to think how many people in Ukraine have lost that.

David McCullagh, journalist and presenter

It may sound too good to be true, but I’m happiest right now. Everyone close to me is healthy. I spend time with those I love. Now that socialising is allowed again I can see family and friends on a regular basis. My job is interesting and varied. I am starting to crack this work-life balance thing. My dog takes me for walks to keep me exercised. I am reading a good book. All it would take to make my happiness complete would be a Springsteen concert.

Rosita Boland, journalist

I ran up the gangway of the ship, joy propelling me forwards, fuelled by expectations, and a state of the purest of happiness. It was November 2007 and I was in Ushuaia in Argentina, several weeks into a backpacking trip around South America. The previous day I had bought a reduced-price ticket for a 10-day expedition to Antarctica. This ship was going to bring me to a place defined by ice, that I knew I would never again see in all my life. I had never been more ecstatic. As the Antarctic Dream pulled out of harbour, I could see these words, in Spanish and English, painted metres high on the harbour walls. Ushuaia. End of the world. Beginning of everything.

Ellen Keane, Paralympic swimmer and gold medal winner

There have been the big moments in my competitive Paralympic swimming career that have brought me real joy and a sense of accomplishment, but I am at my happiest enjoying the simple everyday moments like chilling on the couch with my boyfriend Gav and Denny our dog, after a busy day. That is when my heart feels most full of happiness.

Fintan O’Toole, author and journalist

If you leave out births, marriages and first kisses, the only thing that remains for anyone who writes is the thrill of seeing your name in print and knowing you’re getting paid. It was just a piece in In Dublin magazine about the 1979 local elections, and the money, as I recall, was about enough for five pints of Guinness. But it still felt like a great trick to pull off – getting someone to give you money for doing something you would do for free. It still does – but do not tell the Irish Times that.

Sarah McInerney, presenter of Prime Time and Drivetime on RTÉ Radio 1

On a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand, there is a little dive resort that serves bad food, warm beer and has few modern conveniences. It is the best place on earth. Happiness, there, is delivered in the silence. It is in not wearing shoes for 10 days, in a secret spot on earth that can only be reached by boat. It is in diving in the clearest waters around a frantic, kaleidoscopic underwater city. It is in knowing that, though it will all be over soon, you will have the memories, tucked safely way, for when you need them.