JoAnna García Swisher (Sweet Magnolias) is a mother, actor, and founder of The Happy Place, a website dedicated to design and self-care. Her philosophy of “creating and celebrating the spaces, places, and moments that bring the greatest joy” has actually helped her navigate the difficult moments of her life, most recently the loss of her father, with whom she was incredibly close. This profound loss was a primer for the world we’re living in today, as we all learn to cope with feeling utterly out of control, providing as stable an environment as we can for our children, and trying our best to have faith that there will be a new story to write on the other side.
[01:05] Hi, I’m Joanna García Swisher. And you’re listening to Good Kids. A few years ago, I partnered with a dear friend of mine to create The Happy Place. I mean, it seems so overused, it seems so obvious, and every time I told someone about the idea, they were like “the happy place. I love it. That’s so great!” I was like, wait, no, that’s like the tentative title. We’re obviously going to come up with something incredibly creative and, you know, artsy. And then I was like, “why? it’s your happy place.” So that’s how it was named, because it really is just what it is. And when I gave myself a little bit of freedom to be joyful with the destination, I found myself wanting to tell stories about, you know, different little parties that I would create or different moments, and the way that I parent and the things that I do in my home. And as that started to build and I started to get more joy from sharing those stories, then it just took off.
[02:15] It really is about creating and celebrating the spaces, places and moments that bring you the greatest joy. And I say this a lot: it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or a lot of money to make a moment special. And, you know, you can kind of haphazardly put together something, a special pancake breakfast, or even if it’s just a fun way you pack your kids’ lunch that takes two seconds and doesn’t cost any extra dollars, you kind of feel like you’re killing it. You know, you’re like, dang, I’m really killing the mom game today. You know, I nailed that bento box. And so that’s the spirit of The Happy Place. I don’t ever want it to be unattainable. Oftentimes, you know, we’re showing things that are Pinterest fails. There’s nothing too perfect on the page because it’s real. And so I’m not a food stylist, you know, I don’t paint beautiful pictures. I know that I have a talent for design and I have knowledge that backs that because I went to school for it.
[03:15] I can kind of hang my hat on that, but everything else is really just kind of a free sort of expression of joy. And the other thing that I’ve started to kind of realize is that I know generally I’m a cup-is-half-full kind of girl and I’m a joyful person and that’s just who I am. And so I don’t shy away from that. I’m too old to do that. But my dad, who was my best friend, he passed away unexpectedly in November. And the one thing that I kept hearing when he passed — his voice is in my head, it was saying everything’s going to be OK. Everything’s going to be OK. And I kept saying, no, it’s actually not OK. I mean, this is not OK. This is devastating. And quickly after, you know, maybe two or three weeks after I started to kind of feel the need to talk and to write and to share. And I definitely had those moments where I thought, how in the heck am I going to continue celebrating a destination called The Happy Place when I am so, so terribly sad? But what sort of came to me in that moment was that it’s not always gonna be great, and it’s not always going to be happy, but we’re gonna be riding these waves in life. And we’re surviving and there’s joy in that and there’s joy and heartache. And there are moments to be had, and silver linings. Even right now, what we’re experiencing, which is so surreal and scary and devastating and all of those adjectives to describe where we’re at right now or the feelings of isolation. But there’s also these real special moments of joy.
[05:16] The only thing that keeps coming to me — and I’ve actually even said this to my oldest daughter because she has a lot of fear now, she really is grieving his loss, just like losing that is a very real thing that we’re talking through a lot. And I always say to her, you know, when I was your age, I thought, oh, my gosh, this is the worst thing that ever could imagine. I can’t imagine that moment where I lose my mommy or my daddy or anything like that. And I want you to look at me and know that I’m here. I’m still surviving and I’m still smiling. I’m still finding joy. I’m still experiencing, you know, the joys of motherhood. I’m a wife, I’m a friend. I’m working. I’m doing all of those things — you will be OK in the worst-case scenario in your mind. And it’s about survival. And I want her to have that. It’s just that little tiny kernel. It may not resonate now, but that tiny kernel in the back of her head that, you know, there is a way to navigate these things. It’s not always pretty, but it’s surviving.
[06:21] I love — my female friendships are everything to me and they envelop me and have in the last — especially the last few weeks, I mean, from my wedding to the birth of my children to the death of my father, I had my people with me. And I was so grateful for that. A grief counselor that I spoke to very early on said to me, you know, you seem like you’re a very well-supported person and that you have a village. And I said I do. And she said, you know, the one thing that I say to people that experience like, you know, traumatic loss and grief and all of this stuff, is that you just going to have a few people that will hold your grief — because people always say, oh, a month goes by and, you know, people go on, but you’re still grieving the loss. And if you can have someone that helps you bear the burden of that — she described it as holding that space for you, holding that grief for you. And it’s probably the most powerful thing, I mean, yes, meals have helped in the first week in helping, you know, plan the funeral and all of those things. They were helpful. But the holding the space has been the real silver lining of this.
[09:57] I think having the realization that we’re all never really in control to begin with is something that always resonates with me. I was raised to be like adaptable and I think that that is the one gift that I am more grateful for than almost — I mean, I’m grateful for the love and the safety and and all of the things that my parents were able to provide for me growing up. Because I am a planner and I am a control freak.
[10:32] All of the above, I check all those boxes. But I think there is a spirit of adventure and adaptability that I also really work on. And someone said the other day, actually, when I was I was talking to the employees at my dad’s company that my brother and I are now in charge of. And they said, you know, we just miss him so much, especially in times like this, because he would have always done the right thing and he would have always said the right thing. And he was just an honorable human. And he was so brave and one of his nurses said, “well, that’s because he was so filled with faith.” And it doesn’t even really have to apply to religion because my dad wasn’t even a particularly religious person. He was an immigrant and he worked so hard for everything that he had and he always did the right thing. But he had faith, which allows you to be brave. And I think that that’s the other part of this is like I just have faith. Like, there’s no option right now but to survive. We’re going to come out of this. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I’m interested to tell the story. And I’m interested in being an active participant in that story. I’m not going to sit back and just, you know, see where it goes. I mean, there’s a level like there’s an element to that that we all are kind of having to do. We don’t really have a choice.
[12:01] There’s not much we can do. You know, pray for the people on the front lines, even the grocery store workers and the delivery men and women that are out there, not to mention the medical workers and all of those people. But we don’t have any control over this. We just have to wait for the science to catch up and do our best. I think that for me, I’m balancing that teetering that I can only control what I can control, which is like what’s inside of my house. How clean will it be? What’s the story I’m telling my children? How adventurous can I make the schoolroom look and all of those kind of things. And then everything else, I’m just trying to have faith.
[12:50] I always want to be honest with my kids. But I also am very aware of how much they can actually handle. I mean, I have young ones. I have a three year old and a six year old. So there’s this wonderful woman that I talk to a lot and she works in trauma therapy. And I asked her prior to this whole Corona thing that has sort of taken us to our knees, I was really specifically talking about, you know, the anxiety that comes with the loss that my daughter was feeling. And the one piece of advice that she gave me, which has really been helpful, is just redirecting. I mean, look, you can’t deny that our lives are drastically different.
[13:29] But one piece of advice that she gave me was to get them back into the moment. If that means walking outside and putting their feet in grass, or dipping their toe in the pool, or getting them to get out of the what-ifs. Come back to what is right now has been really helpful for my oldest. Not what is it going to look like when you die. Mommy’s here right now. Mommy’s here. What was your favorite part of the day? Those are the kind of just redirect has been incredibly powerful. I am not a child psychologist. This is the advice that I’ve been given. But I can say that this is without a doubt, especially in the grieving process for her, and now especially with Corona, just bringing them to the moment has been incredibly helpful. Because, you know, if you give them too much, they can kind of fixate.
[14:20] I mean, as kids get older, that’s a different conversation. You know, reassuring them that it’s going to be OK. This is a unique experience. I told her the other day, I said this is something that there’s so few times that we can say, like, you know, we’re all in this together. It’s all kids, all across the world are experiencing this right now. And, you know, kind of use it as not so much doom and gloom, which is scary, but take her until the moment it has really been helpful.
[14:56] We’re all experiencing this fear and uncertainty in so many different ways. Today we are healthy. We all have our own versions of the uncomfortability, the uncertainty, the pain, whatever it may be that we’re — feelings that we’re experiencing surrounding this moment. But we’re all in this together and all experiencing the exact same trauma at the exact same time. And there is something so powerful about a village. If you’re interested in learning more about The Happy Place, you can find us on Instagram @thehappyplace. And our website is The Happy Place. You can watch me on Sweet Magnolias on up Netflix right now. And I’ll be talking about that a ton on my public social media, which is @JoAnnaLGarcia.
[15:55] Good Kids is a Lemonada Media original. Andrew Steven is our producer, and the show is executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Music is by Dan Molad. Westwood One is our ad sales and distribution partner. Like us, give us a five-star rating, and recommend us to a friend. If you want to submit a show idea, email us at [email protected].