Finding Joy in the Little Things Can Make a Big Difference in Times of Uncertainty

by Jennifer Battisti

A book that I’ve turned to during these surreal and challenging times is a genre-bending collection of short essays titled “The Book of Delights” by Ross Gay. This book is intimate and reads like mindful observations from a good friend, written with a grateful heart and gorgeous language. The author set out to write one paragraph (sometimes longer) every day for one year on ordinary, and often overlooked, blessings, many of which center around his garden. What I deeply admire in this book is its ability to soften the hard edge of the world. The book has a magical power to shift our focus from the abstract and complex problems of our current situation, such as: statistics, anxiety, comparison and politics to concrete, sensory-driven images, which foster joy and delight. It’s not the news or the stock market ticker tape, it’s the resilience of a weed; the audacity in the ripe red globe of a tomato. It’s that friend of yours who does that totally endearing thing.

It’s an effective trick I’ve discovered to reorient myself with humanity; those daily moments where, if I pay really close attention, I can spot something simple that doubles as a metaphor for something we need more of. During the quarantine, I needed to make friends with stillness, so ironically the universe sent me a hummingbird. Every morning I would attempt to meditate for 10 minutes, and every day I struggled with quieting my worried mind and my restlessness. All the noise of the pandemic was swirling in my mind. But strangely, every time I opened my eyes, there she’d be—this plump, green-breasted, needle-beaked palm-sized bird—revving up her own sound, which, when I began to pay attention, sounded like something I’ve never heard before, or never heard under these circumstances. I started to become curious about it. I felt playful: What should this sound be named?

A mouse’s chainsaw? The sound lightning would make, if it could be a sound? I got my daughter involved, “The world’s smallest clown car, filled with miniature clowns!” And then there’s the wings! The vibration of her body was a mighty blur I could only equate with the invisible pulse of collective energy; being in the center of a concert, a packed yoga class, or my daughter’s school play—those sensations I’d been longing for but had not been clever enough to look for in what was available. Somehow this bird motivated me to meditate more, to just sit and look more and to breathe deeply … more.

Another time during quarantine my daughter was very nervous and didn’t want to go outside at all. She was having meltdowns almost daily. I didn’t know what we would find, but I knew we had to go looking: Like all forms of faith, the joy was in the seeking, not the finding. I convinced her to go on a nature walk with me. I probably promised battered Oreos or extra tablet time, because we aren’t perfect, ever, but we are especially imperfect in the time of pandemics. It didn’t take much time before the soil did the woozy soil thing and the sandstone flaunted her charms, and we discovered something we had forgot about completely in the quarantine: spring! It was the time of renewal. We found gauzy nests of canyon caterpillars nestled on nearly every bush. There was a caterpillar for all of us, it seemed. We forgot about the shortage of everything else in the way of abundance.

This is called hunting for small delights, and once you find one, you become curious and open, much like a child, to the glory and wonder of it. Write it down each day, share them at the kitchen table with your family, make a scrapbook or collage of delights. Go on a sunset scavenger hunt for joy in your neighborhood. Hashtag your small delights; spread the good news of the ordinary miracles. The broken world will stay broken for a long while, but this practice will begin to till your own garden for what you will need to replenish and forge on. I don’t have many answers for my 7-year-old (or myself) when it comes to questions about the fate of 2020 and that is hard for me; to not be able to promise that everyone will be safe and healthy. I can only turn our attention, again and again to the discoverable world. It never fails to rise to the occasion of reminding me with the pattern of the unabashed sunflower, or the helpful watering can, even the vulnerability of peeling paint, that we persist and grow in spite of and often because of adversity.

You can take this wonder and use it to fuel community efforts, raise awareness, and contribute wherever there is need. Support your local hummingbird, backyard cactus, or woman at the checkout, with your undivided attention and your search to stockpile gratitude. It’s the wisest investment one can make in this one life on this one earth.