A woman sits at a desk and laughs.

GriefSPEAK: Time to make your happy box – Mari Nardolillo Dias

by Mari Nardolillo Dias, contributing writer

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I [don’t] feel fine…) R.E.M.

Following the loss of a loved one, many feel that it is the end of the world as they know it. And it is. A traditional gift for the grieving is a “memory box”, where one can save and treasure mementos of their family member. Whenever they need to “remember”, they can open the memory box and gingerly take out each item to hold in the palm of their hand.

When I was a kid, I created a “happy box”, fashioned from an old wooden cigar box. I painted each side in different primary colors, and the top with my happy color at the time-red. Stenciled on the cover in yellow were the words “happy box.”  I filled it with long sought, collectible sea glass, gum wrappers from my “boyfriends”, and special rocks and shells. Later on, in adolescence, I added ticket stubs, newspaper clippings and prom bouquets. I employed my happy box quite often as I was repeatedly “grounded” and sent to my room for one unacceptable deed or another. I would simply retrieve my happy box and sit cross-legged on the floor, milling over each piece. I never felt “punished” or grounded. I had found a way to enjoy the quarantine.

As an adult, I brought my happy box in to my class and told my students the above story. Before long, many had replicated my idea and found it calming and productive. (This was a group of the top 1/2% of the top 1% of high school students in the country pursuing a college course in Leadership at Duke University.) Following the conclusion of this month-long course, they presented me with what they referred to as an “adult happy box” (they noticed my original was overflowing!) It was a large, ornate, gold adorned wooden box. Each of them had written a personal note on individual cards, which they included in the adult happy box. I still have both my happy boxes.

Recently I gave a client homework. Create a happy box. He said he had received a memory box as a gift at his wife’s funeral. It was already full. “Let’s see if there is any difference in the contents of the two boxes”, I suggested. When he returned the following week, he was surprised that he didn’t remove anything from the memory box to put in the happy box. He said right now the memory box made him sad. He showed me his happy box. He used a tackle box and had begun to fill it with happy items. The idea I had at 7 years old still works. Now go – and create your happy box.


To read more articles for RINewsToday by Mari Nardolillo Dias, go here:

Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. Dias is a Certified death doula, and has a Certificate in Psychological Autopsy.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to:


Dias is the author of GriefSPEAK, Vols. I and II

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