It was so uplifting to spend time together sharing our thoughts on this topic. We laughed, we remembered, we reflected together. Our focus was on small things or moments that had brought us happiness. As you read the stories and poetry in this blog post, you’ll see how the topic led us on to deeper appreciation of our everyday lives and the ways in which we find happiness. As one member said, at the end of our meetings it feels like “you’ve been given a lovely warm hug”. We wish that for you too, as you read on, maybe enjoying a cup of tea or coffee as you do so.
In 2018, when things seemed bleak, both in her personal life and in the world at large, journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson started writing a column for The Guardian on the small things that give her joy. The idea, she freely admits, was nabbed from JB Priestley, who wrote a book some 70 years earlier called Delight. “If this grouchy Yorkshireman could take the time to sit down and document his everyday exultations,” she reasoned, “then I, someone whose default is a sort of droll cynicism, could do the same”.
In our last meeting, Jolene set us on the right track with her own lovely poem she had written in a difficult time in her own life. We reflected and shared our own small things that made our lives joyful to us.
Tea features large in my own joy in small things. I prefer to use leaf tea (outdated I know) and use a teapot that has its own integrated strainer. In my mind, it is no more difficult making a cup of leaf tea in a pot than it is to use a tea bag. My small teapot easily accommodates two decent-sized cups/small mugs of tea, so is economic as well.
The first two cups of tea in the morning help wake me up and get me started for the day. Nothing can replace that for giving me the joy of waking up to another day. Which leads easily to another small joy. One’s own bed. Going to bed in a bed with newly changed sheets and pillowcases smelling clean and fresh and well tucked in, but then waking up next morning and realising that here is another day, and you can still get out of bed under your own steam. What can be more joyful!
How lovely it is to go away and investigate new places and new experiences, but what a joy to come back to your own home with everything in its right place in bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. You know where everything is without having to think about it. And then on your return there is the joy of a cup of tea made just as you like it!
Another small joy of mine contains family history. This too was a drinking pot, though this one was and is never drunk from.
My mother was orphaned as a child and was brought up from the age of 10 or 11 by a much older step-sister who had been widowed in the First World War. That sister, called Ellen, was bought a beautiful coffee pot when she left work (I suppose to look after my mother, although that was never explained). That coffee pot was my mother’s pride and joy. I suspect it represented her own tenuous link to her background as she did not have much else from her childhood days.
When I was a child of about 8, 9, or 10, I was allowed the huge privilege of taking that pot from the cupboard where it was kept but never used and washing it. The pearl lustre finish to the glaze came alive in the soapy water. It was a bit scary as I am not sure what would have happened if I had dropped it or damaged it in some way, but it was also a real joy to be given that responsibility and have that link myself to a family I was never able to know. Both my parents had been orphaned as children so there were no grandparents in our lives, and this elder stepsister Ellen also died just after I was born. That coffee pot survived a move to London during the war, a move back to Manchester, and many years later when I had inherited it, my own move of house.
I have to say, it was well wrapped up in towels and travelled with me in my car. It could not possibly have been entrusted to a packing case and removal men!
A prayer for small joys I wish for your favourite shade of cup of tea or perfect porridge consistency to be presented to you without ceremony to show you how valuable your happiness and pleasure is yet how simple your needs are really. I wish that you have a small burst of energy that prompts a quick supermarket or car dance and it makes you and any witnesses laugh so you get to remember how daft life is and yet also stunningly miraculous. I wish for you to be capable of holding both these truths in the space between giggles and awe-filled silence. I wish for you to smile at a serious-looking passer-by then see their face transformed, eyes twinkling, cheeks high and you get to see in their reflection how casually powerful you can be. I wish for you to wear tight shoes, literally or figuratively for just long enough that when you take them off you feel the contrasting freedom as luxurious. I wish for you to think of someone seemingly forgotten then they contact you within the next moment so you get a glimpse of the wondrousness of life in its complexity and your own unknowingness. I wish for you to feel clean and fresh after a shower to remind you of the privilege and power of running water and a fresh start. I wish for you to be aware of your heart the constant support of it how this shows how life is passing through and that it’s not really all down to you. I wish for you to have the capacity to thoroughly enjoy each of these tiny dandelion seeds as they float through your day and when you notice them, they put down roots and stay so you are surrounded by a field of everyday flower-weeds to remind you of what feeds your soul, in innumerable ways.
Can a joy be small? Isn’t joy always a huge gust of an emotion that pulls you off your feet and into the air?
The dictionary definition supports that: 1. Vivid emotion of pleasure, gladness 2 Thing that causes delight (Concise Oxford)
And how do we find joy? Merriam Webster, the US dictionary suggests that it is, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires,” so do we have to attain success or own something to feel joy? Well, I don’t want to stereotype the American people but do you see the connection there between joy and possession? The British dictionary doesn’t tell us how joy is linked to good fortune or getting what we want, just what it is.
I wondered what does spark joy? And how intense a pleasure it has to be to become joy instead of mere happiness? After some thought, I realised that it was in my own hands. I was lying on my back in bed, and the cat, as he sometimes does, jumped onto my chest, curled up and went to sleep, his purr diminishing to a quiet breath in and out.
I could have been impatient; his sleep was interfering with my desire for tea. Alternatively, I could have been happy knowing the cat trusted me.
As I lay there, listening to his breathing, the feeling of happiness grew. I became more aware of the warmth of the cat. He was alive and life is precious. He trusted me and trust is precious. I was not alone, and that too – precious. As I reflected, my pleasure ballooned into joy.
I realised we are in charge of our own joy.
“…the true joy in life [comes from] …. being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy”.
I agree with you, George Bernard Shaw. Joy is my own to create and hold. A good lesson to learn, even so late in my life!
On the first of October “Small things that bring you joy” was the topic for our online zoom. Jolene takes us on a journey, grounding us and leading the workshop with an opening that instantly relaxes us.
I look forward to my online sessions. It’s a space where we share memories, writing and laughter. We look forward to meeting new writers we can share experiences with and have the great feeling you get when taking part.
I chose to write about my small contributions that brings me joy.
Almost every day, I write a positive affirmation and’ food for thought’ for myself, family and close friends. An example is:
Thought for the day... Good morning, ignore the grey skies and concentrate on the day ahead. Today is a good day to shine bright like a diamond. You have that determination in you. Do what needs doing but pace yourself. Be realistic. Don’t overdo it. Have a proper lunch break, you deserve it. Take your time as the ball is in your court. You can choose how to play it. Surround yourself with positivity. Enjoy your day, as it’s going to be a good one.
Postcards Poetry – acrostic or otherwise Over a cerveza, bier, bière Silliness essential Terrible, sweaty script Critiques: food, entertainment, service, prices Address book at the ready: Royaume-Uni Double check it’s good to go Sent.
Over my long life, I have collected many memories and have stored things which remind me of these happenings.
I chose to tell you of one of these which gives me memories of my older brother and his wife. They enjoyed travelling to new places and finding unusual things and often bought small items to remind them of their visits.
After the death of his wife, my brother arranged a tray with many of these small purchases as a token of his happiness in remembering these days. He decided to invite any friends and family, when they visited him, to choose anything which appealed to them. When I was invited to make my choice, I took this miniature chair which made me think of many visits we had made to older properties where older furniture had been kept.
This delightful little model gives me happy memories of my brother and my sister-in-law.
During the first meeting on-line, my mind was blank until I started to think through a typical morning and quickly came up with quite a list. The caffeine rush from my first sip of coffee, the moment I lock my own front door, finally the contented feeling as I walk out to engage in whatever my plans for the day are.
Further consideration of these “small things” became an exercise in gratitude. The hit from the coffee showed I should be grateful that I was alive and physically and financially able to make a hot drink. Locking my front door is a reminder of the huge benefit of having shelter when so many are homeless, and the privilege of having an exclusive door when for many years I lived in shared housing.
The most profound gratefulness came with the realisation of how blessed I am having contentment. I am aware this is due to my involvement within the community and I’m conscious that there are many, many people this does not apply to.
In the face to face meet up at St. Margaret’s Community Centre I recalled those magic moments of joy which come from observations of nature or people which remind us that though we live in a world in which we witness change at a seemingly increasing rate, there is still a great amount of continuity in life.
In this regard are the leaves of trees changing colour and falling in autumn and the allied activity where parents encourage their young children to “catch a falling leaf” to bring good luck.
Through the kitchen window, I saw that the high wind had brought down some apples during the night. I went out and picked one up – it was a joy to hold, so big, red and undamaged. I realised what a mild autumn day it was and how pleasant it was to be outdoors. “Today’s the day to pick apples” I said to myself, “other things can wait”. My spirits soared as I became completely absorbed in my task for at least an hour, enjoying “fishing” vertically with our special apple picker, reaching as high as I could without using a ladder. The stretching did me good too!
The apple tree was already mature when we moved into the house, twenty-three years ago, but we’ve never had so many apples as this year. They’re much bigger and redder than usual, presumably the result of the long, warm summer. In contrast, last year we hardly had any because of a late frost and weren’t able to share them as we usually do. I was happy listening to the radio as I washed them, chopped and cooked: parsnip and apple soup, apple crumble, stewed apple to freeze for the winter.
I sent WhatsApp messages to neighbours to see if they’d like some and that led on to friendly door step conversations. Later as a thank you, one sent me a photo of three crumbles she’d made, saying “eleven people will be enjoying them – the apples are so tasty”.
I smiled to myself that the small joy of picking up an apple that morning had grown into a deep sense of contentment. I’d been able to share the joy of a gift from nature with others, enjoy where I live and maybe above all, relish the freedom that retirement has given me to choose how I spend my time.