Teeny, tiny moments of joy
They’re what life is all about.
Thanks to the double-whammy of pandemic and parenthood, it’s been almost two years since I’ve enjoyed a host of activities that bring me joy. I haven’t bonded with strangers at a concert or joined in a round of applause at the end of a play. I haven’t flown on an airplane or vacationed with extended relatives. I haven’t even wandered through an art museum or eaten buttery popcorn in a dark movie theater.
As you can imagine—or might know from your own pandemic experience—this is a real bummer. In the Before Times, traveling, going to shows, and visiting museums were some of my favorite things to do. They were activities, separate from life’s normal tedium, that I could always count on to lift my spirits.
For now, my life is mostly lived in that tedious state. And while I miss those bigger events, I’ve been happy to discover that my days still hold plenty of joy. If anything, this slower period of smaller moments has taught me that I don’t need notable experiences to find happiness. Would I be thrilled with a few days in a plush hotel? Of course! But there’s joy to be found in our little house, too.
Not too long ago, I made an important realization in therapy: much like being afraid of setting goals since Jamie died, I’ve also been reluctant to let myself feel sustained joy. Although I’m not yet ready to write about this in detail, (another realization: it’s helpful to sit with some things before writing about them!) I did want to share a bit about an experiment I’ve been trying in hopes of facing that fear.
Every evening for the past few weeks, I’ve been making a list of three small joys from my day. Much like gratitude journaling, this practice is meant to redirect my brain from negative thinking. It’s an attempt to remind myself that, despite the lack of theaters, airports, and other exciting places I used to visit, my days are still filled with plenty of joyful moments. It’s also a way to reassure my grief-mind that experiencing joy doesn’t mean that everything will soon come crashing down.
The joys I’m experiencing lately are relatively small. I’ve traded rowdy nights out with friends for sweet tickle sessions with my toddler. Instead of singing along with a massive concert crowd, I’m dancing alone in my living room. I’ve swapped fancy restaurant meals for good-enough home cooking.
As a result, my joy journal is a collection of teeny, tiny moments.
At first, compiling this list of everyday joys made me sort of sad. It felt like written proof of how much more limited my life has become over the past few years—not only during the pandemic and as a parent, but due to how I’ve changed since becoming a widow. But now, after a few weeks of tracking these daily delights, my collection of joys looks different. It feels like evidence of a life well-lived.
Here are a few snippets from my joy journal:
The rainbows dancing on my bedroom wall as morning light pours in.
Hearing my toddler’s high-pitched giggle.
Daffodils on neighborhood walks, signs of spring that seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
Writing thank-you notes, appreciating the act of gratitude and art of hand-writing.
The moment when Billy made fun of the way I walked, which made me bark with laughter, which made him laugh even more.
A warm cup of coffee, delivered to me with a sweet smile.
These are relatively tiny things. But they are special and worth savoring. Together, these small moments make a big, full life.
Planning a trip to visit friends. Finding joy in the planning itself.
Afternoons that are warm enough to go outside without a jacket.
Beginning a new television show, wanting to simultaneously devour as many episodes as possible and savor them so the experience lasts.
Returning to a clean home.
The sight of Billy and our daughter quietly coloring together in our living room.
Maybe the best part of joy journaling is that it’s teaching me to note the happy moments as they occur. Since I began keeping my joy journal, I’ve had my share of crummy days, but even those held glimmers of light. Some days, the joyful moments that I document are especially tiny—something as fleeting as spotting a cardinal outside the window—but, still, they are there.
If you look for it, joy exists.
Making a dear friend laugh as we reminisce about old memories.
Glancing at the clock right as it hit 11:11.
Watching my mom light up at the sight of her granddaughter.
Completing a project before its deadline.
Finishing a satisfyingly good book, with another promising read lined up.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve absorbed the idea that joy is hard to find, that it’s something only achieved through major accomplishments, new purchases, or those big Before Times events. But that’s not true. The discipline of keeping a joy journal has taught me to notice how ubiquitous—and normal—joy really is.
In Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee writes about how small changes to your surroundings can bring lasting joy. I read her book a couple years ago, and still think about it often, especially when my bedroom fills with rainbows in the morning thanks to a small prism on the windowsill. It’s such a simple object, but it brings joy day after day. (And it feels especially fitting that “rainbow!” is one of my toddler’s first words.)
I don’t know how long I’ll keep up my joy journal. For now, it’s the antidote to life that I need. It can be easy for me to get wrapped up in terrible news, focus on what could have been, and listen to the negativity that my sweet dumb brain loves to spout. Sometimes, I can convince myself that the world is irreparably troubled and everything is bad. But my joy journal is proof that that’s not true. On a small scale, at least, things are more than alright.
No matter what each day brings, my list of joyful moments gets a little bit longer. Every day, there’s a new opportunity to bring tiny joys into this big old life.
p.s. Want some tips on how to incorporate small joys into your life? Paying subscribers are receiving a host of helpful resources with today’s newsletter. If you become a paying subscriber today, I’ll forward you the bonus version of this newsletter so you, too, can add some joy to your everyday surroundings.