Finding Moments of Joy

Even in the most challenging times, moments of joy can sustain us.

by Rebecca Shulman
Spring flowers
Multiple walks in the springy weather! 💛 —Erin Genovese

What was the best thing that happened to you this week? My parents asked me this question every Friday evening. I remember groaning, irritated that they wanted to know anything about my life. Dismayed at the idea of publicly sifting through the week and choosing a best thing.

Every Friday evening I ask my kids: What was the best thing that happened to you this week? Predictably they groan and give short answers, or refuse to answer. Like their mother, they don’t want to review their week.

Since mid-March, I have been posing this question on Facebook. I think I have found the right audience, and the right context, for this question. I’ve heard from over 50 friends. People who don’t know each other are sharing comments with each other—meaning they are not only reading my posts, but combing through the comments to hear about the bright spots in other people’s weeks.

Moments of joy
Left: We found a robin’s nest in progress near the front porch roof. Char decided to take a closer look. —Sarah Couri. Right: Enjoying coffee and the beautiful weather on the porch on Saturday and loving that Kate is so excited about her choice to go to MICA for college. —Brooke Spellman

It is powerful, in this moment, to hear about the small moments that bring joy to life. I love hearing about a child’s first lost tooth, making art, a wonderful meal. Someone else doing the dishes. A good workout. A walk with friends. A friend or family member getting healthy.

Connecting with old friends who live in a different city. Finding a new trick on Zoom. Feeling sunshine. Siblings getting along with each other for an afternoon. Playing music. Listening to music. Creating sidewalk chalk drawings with kids. Family dinners. Fitting into an old pair of jeans. Delicious cookies. A new pet.

Celebrating sobriety. Enjoying a cocktail. The ridiculous and amazing things kids do. A work success. A video dance party. Discovering a new artist. Playing board games. Homeschool successes. A picnic. A moment alone. Great coworkers. Playing trivia. Getting a computer to work. Teaching a child to drive. Celebrating a birthday. A surprise gift.

FaceTime with grandkids. Watching a good TV show. Sitting around a fire pit. Eating a bagel. Selling a house. Brownies. A good night’s sleep. Finding a bird’s nest. Meeting new neighbors. Fixing a broken heater. Going for a walk in the middle of a workday. Finishing a jigsaw puzzle. Tacos. Planting flowers. A Zoom reunion. Rollerblading.

Coaching a new baker over the phone. Riding a bike without training wheels. Supporting local businesses. Coffee. Nice feedback from a supervisor. A gift from a friend. Making progress on a project. Wearing sandals. Ice cream. 

It’s a reminder that even in the most challenging times, not only does life go on—it includes moments of joy, which sustain us. In an article last summer in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost wrote: 

“Unlike happiness, joy is momentary and small-scale: It comes from an intense, momentary feeling of positive emotion… Something that makes you smile, or laugh, for example, like watching a dog play or feeling the texture of sand pass through your fingers. Joy is tiny but visceral… the ‘little moments that make us feel more alive.’”
Moments of joy
Left: Eileen and I are continuing to make art and are beginning to plan what a virtual online version of Big Picture Peoria might look like. We also were given about 100 square feet of moss from the demolished concession stand at Corn Stock. —Doug Leunig. Right: Max and I helped deliver signs to our Peoria High Class of 2020 Seniors. It was fun to see my senior kiddos today. Of course from six feet away :) I miss my students. —Rhonda Hurst Smith

The trick is to find and remember these moments. To welcome and realize joyful moments even in bad times—or maybe especially in bad times. One of my Facebook friends, Teresa, wrote about noticing details on her street and in her neighborhood that she had never noticed before:

“Despite fears and concerns, or because of them, this threat creates an awareness and appreciation of life—I just simply noticed more around me.”
Moments of joy
Spending time together. —Alyce Jackson 

A note on context: I realize that I write this from a place of privilege. I am still getting a paycheck, and I have a job I can do from home. I have two self-sufficient teenaged children to keep me company. I live in a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood near a park, and I have friends throughout my neighborhood who I walk with or pass by and say hello to. I have access to the technology needed to connect with friends around the world. I know that the past few months have been much easier for me than for many.

But there are moments of joy in most of our lives, if we look for them. There is sunshine. There are birthdays. There is the joy of running and getting winded, of a toddler you do not know waving hello as you walk by, of your favorite song playing at just the right moment. There are connections with others—even if these connections are relegated to the virtual realm. 

One of the most joyful moments of my week has turned into hearing about the joy in others’ lives. So, what was the best thing that happened to you this week? PM

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