For your sweet dumb brain: Much-needed moments of joy

Sibling dance parties, infant milestones, and other examples of lightness in a dark time.

In Tuesday’s essay I wrote, “I have a feeling that many of us will gain some incredible lessons during this time. We can hate the situation we’re in while also being open to the things it teaches us. That’s where growth happens.”

When I wrote those words, I imagined those lessons would come in the weeks or months after we’ve had time to adjust to this strange COVID-19-impacted world. I thought that we’d figure out what matters after some deep reflection and journaling, maybe with the help of a solid therapy session (or three).

But the lessons are happening right now—at least among the ever-wise Sweet Dumb Brain community. You are already finding moments of joy in the pain, and reasons to appreciate this unique and unprecedented time. I asked you all for things that have brought you comfort and happiness amid the coronavirus crisis, and your answers were truly delightful! Here’s what you said.

Johanna is in a swing dance troupe that’s had to move its rehearsals online. Her group held one last in-person rehearsal last Friday, but many members, including Johanna, attended via livestream. “There were about 10 of us all jumping around our respective living rooms at home doing drills and running routines right along with them,” she said. The experience offered her “endorphins plus community plus the music and dance that we all love, for two hours on what would've been a gloomy Friday night alone.”

On Sunday, Molly and her family built a bonfire in their backyard. They wrote wishes on paper and threw them into the fire, the kids jumped back and forth over their creek, and Molly and her husband “couldn’t help but smile, laugh, and enjoy not only the time together, but the slowness and honesty that something terrifying has brought us.”

Kali also found joy in nature. “We went camping and I saw bioluminescence for the first time,” she wrote.

Samantha has been exercising to dance videos from The Fitness Marshall, including this entertaining workout. “He's hilarious, and his choreography isn't too difficult and is easy to modify,” she said. Best of all, “it definitely helps me feel better.”

“I feel like I am fighting off the darkness, daily, hourly,” said Wendy. “The one thing I did that brought me some joy yesterday was sign up for a free online course, Buddhism and Modern Psychology.” She just started the classes and said she’s planning to keep at it, and continue finding self-compassion.

Like many of us, Rachel is adjusting to an entirely new routine, which isn’t easy. “I hate working from home. HATE it,” she said. “It feels so lonely.” Still, on Rachel’s first day of remote work, she went for a walk after sending out an early morning newsletter. It had rained overnight and everything was shimmering and gorgeous and radiant,” she said. “I walked for 30 minutes and I was in complete awe for every one of them. I’m committed to walking every morning after the newsletter goes out, no matter what else is happening.” 

I especially loved the end of Rachel’s email: “I still hate working from home, I'm not gonna lie. But it sucks a lot less when I take a moment to step outside, appreciate Spring, and breathe.”

Chris, who is also working from home, taught his 4-month-old how to sit up. “It was beautiful and insightful,” he wrote. “[The moment] also made me think that this virus is a ray of light to begin to slow down, appreciate all we have, and vow to use less than we need.”

Gretchen’s younger brother moved in with her after the dorms at his university closed. “Last night we watched Spiderman: Far From Home, and during the end sequence song we got up and danced like lunatics around the living room,” she shared. “This is a really silly thing that my siblings and I used to do when we were little kids—end each movie with a dance party—and it brought me so much joy to bring it back for just five minutes.” Gretchen added that the impromptu dance party “was the first time in the last few days that I really allowed myself to feel light and happy, and it was a much-needed reminder that, of course, I am still capable of feeling those things! My goal over the next few weeks is to seek out those opportunities of silly joy as much as I can, even in small doses.”

Many of you have found joy through creative uses of video communication. Sophie’s D&D group is now meeting through a video chat service, which means that “our dear friend who moved abroad can join back in!” Gabriela and her husband joined a video dinner party with college friends and their spouses, who are located across the country. Rossilynne and her parents used FaceTime to keep up their weekly Sunday night dinner routine. And Jessica is hosting 9:00 p.m. virtual dance parties for friends from her living room.

I loved Becky’s list of what’s helped her over the past week:

  • Danced around the house to upbeat music (Lizzo ftw!)

  • Gave a 100% tip on some takeout

  • Venmo-ed my massage therapist her usual amount even though I canceled

  • Worked on a puzzle

  • Donated money to a food bank

And Allison spent Sunday painting. “I used a frame and supplies I already had and made my grandmother a gift,” she wrote. “It isn't perfect or anything, but I was proud of the end result and got to enjoy hours of painting, listening to music, and playing. Best of all, it was a way to give my grandma some extra love in these uncertain times.”

Wow. I can’t fully express how much I appreciated all of these responses. They are so hopeful and insightful and lovely! Reading them made me feel better about the state of everything, and about how we’re all getting through this stressful time. Thank you.

Keep finding those moments of joy and connection. They matter so much.


Good job, brain

I'm reading: I’m sadly having trouble focusing on books right now. (That’s something else that reminds me of the early days of grief.) In the meantime, though, Billy and I have been choosing a different movie to watch most nights, and it’s been a wonderful distraction.

I’m inspired by: All of you. And all of the wonderful examples of people supporting each other and staying positive around the world. 

I'm aiming to: Give myself grace about not being more productive during this time. Did I expect that my house would be sparkling clean by this point? You bet. But it’s not, and that’s ok. It’s been helpful hearing from other people who have said that productivity isn’t happening for them, either.

Additional resources

  • This coronavirus-focused episode of Forever35 was really good. I especially enjoyed hearing from listeners in Italy, who offered a (calm and unexpectedly reassuring) picture of what those of us in the U.S. might experience in the future.

  • Carrie found comfort in this poem, which was read during last week’s remote service at her church. “I've thought a good deal about it and I do find it significantly more comforting to think of this as a special time to strengthen our bonds with loved ones and our community, and not the alternative, which is that the world seems to be melting down before our eyes,” she said. “I hope we all continue to find ways to help each other as best we can and that we emerge from this stronger and more connected than before.”

  • I’ve been in a really bad habit of checking my phone first thing when I wake up, a behavior that’s felt especially damaging lately. That’s why I greatly appreciated this clever and oh-so-helpful comic from Chanel Miller.

  • Billy (not my partner, though we could certainly benefit from this!) recommends Insight Timer’s guided meditations.

  • No one knows how long the coronavirus pandemic will last. For many of us, the unknown causes some major anxiety. Here are some science-backed tips on maintaining emotional resilience during this trying time.

  • The Lily provided a guide on how to talk to friends who are (still!) going out to bars and generally disregarding social distancing guidance.

  • And yours truly wrote an op-ed for CNN about how to stay connected to others while self-isolating.

For your sweet dumb brain

This is a good time to start up a journal, even if you jot down one sentence a day. In particular, make note of the light moments. Keeping track of joyful experiences is a guaranteed mood-booster, and a gift to future you. Just imagine how impressed you’ll be when you look back and read about all the silver linings you found during this surreal time!


This newsletter is written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, who is experimenting with creative and educational ways to keep her preschooler entertained at home.