The Sweet Tradition of The Southern "Happy"
My mom has always called little gifts "happies." If she knows a friend is having a hard work week, she'll bring by a "happy" to brighten her day. If a neighbor loses a loved one, the "happy" of pre-made lunch goes a long way. You get the idea.
A "happy" can be as simple as a $5 coffee and scone brought to a coworker or a bouquet of flowers for a teacher. Even though a "happy" is generally quick, simple, and not too expensive, it's always thoughtful. It lets the receiver know you were thinking of them and wanted to bring some "happy" to their day.
Emma Allen, founder and owner of the curated online shop Hammett, is an expert when it comes to gift-giving. Hammett was created to stand in as a virtual "gift closet" of sorts, another concept near and dear to Southerners.
"I always think of a 'happy' as being small but special," Allen says. "Finding something personal to the person you are gifting it to makes it that much more thoughtful and meaningful."
Amy Rainer, a Birmingham, Alabama-based etiquette teacher, writer, and speaker behind Etiquette with Amy, is more than experienced with gifting "happies," or as the Georgia native's family calls them, "surcies." She defines a surcie as, "an intentional small gift given with love," so it's fitting that Rainer's love language is gift giving.
That invisible attachment of love is at the heart of why she prefers gifting to physical touch or words of affirmation. For her, a "happy" isn't about how much money you spend. It comes down to "taking some time to step out of ourselves and our busy schedules and thinking, 'How can I make these people in my life feel loved, important, and special?'"
"My relationships are just the most important thing to me," Rainer says, which is why it's paramount to her to stop the hustle and bustle and be sure her family and friends know "they're cared about, they're thought about, and they're loved" with even the tiniest "surcie" on the doorstep.
That thoughtfulness is something that's high priority for Allen when it comes to "happies" as well, especially in terms of timing. "Think ahead," she says. "Whether it's sending coffee to a friend before a big day at work or flowers to a hostess before their event, the thoughtfulness goes a long way!"
Rainer has a few key elements she always includes with a "surcie" to make it feel extra-noteworthy for the recipient.
To start, get yourself some high-quality, letter-pressed calling cards. They might be an investment, but one that's well worth it. "You can tie a letter-pressed calling card to anything, and it makes it lovely," Rainer says.
In keeping with the presentation aspect, Rainer also recommends stocking your wrapping supplies with some beautiful ribbon that you can use during any season. Her go-tos are double-faced satin or organza ribbon in colors you can gift year-round, like leaf green, ice blue, or rosy pink.
A custom calling card and vibrant ribbon will immediately elevate any gift dropped in a mailbox, even if it's a few stems picked from the yard.
As far as which gifts Rainer prefers, you can never go wrong with the "saw this and thought of you" kind. If you're present (no pun intended) when you spend time with your friends and family, you'll pick up on plenty of "happy" inspiration. Did your mother-in-law rave about your cute cocktail napkins? Grab her a few the next time you see them at the store. Rainer once commented on how much she enjoyed a cocktail mixer her friend used. A few weeks later, a bottle of it was sitting on her stoop, wrapped with a bow.
"Keeping the gift personal to the receiver is always successful—whether it be a box of local cookies for your sweet-tooth bestie or a pretty little vase for your green-thumb neighbor," Allen says.
Rainer has been particularly into giving "consumable" presents, or ones that won't start gathering dust and don't need a dedicated, permanent spot in her friends' homes. (Because as Southerners often ask: How many trinket trays is too many trinket trays?) This could mean a single-use bath bomb given with a note to "take some time for yourself and relax today" or a simple bouquet of wildflowers in a mason jar. Rainer recently started a cutting garden with raised beds in her own yard for this very purpose.
Allen agrees. "You can never go wrong with fresh flowers," she says. "They are always perfect for the person who has it all!"
Even though handwritten thank you notes are almost always recommended, if you're the recipient of a "happy," you're off the hook.
"For something like this, I don't always feel like a formal thank you note is required," Rainer says. Of course, a phone call or sweet text to convey your gratitude are non-negotiable. For example, when Rainer received that cocktail mix, she took a picture and texted it to her friend, thanking her and telling her how excited she was to make a cocktail with it that night. That's all you need to do, y'all!
If you don't practice it already, we hope you pick up the sweet, Southern tradition of the "happy." Your friends and family will thank you (via call or text, of course).