Opening Letters

COLUMN: As the Seasons Change, So Should Our Attitudes

Finding joy in life’s simplest pleasures isn’t a luxury amid tough times. To survive, we need to make it a priority to thrive.

Katy Hackworthy, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

“I want to study joy. Joy, to me – adult joy – is constituted as much by our sorrow as it is by our happiness. Joy is not joy without knowing that we’re all going to die. Pain is present constantly in our lives.” –Ross Gay

I’m sure many of us would like to think we learned something about finding joy amid tough times in the past year, but I think most of us barely scraped through. How, among such persistent obstacles and grief, are we expected to seek delight with a wide open heart? I cast my own doubts; from the COVID 19 pandemic to the uprisings in Minneapolis to the specific traumas I’ve experienced on a micro level, it would be easy to get sucked into a whirlpool of negativity. Despite all of that, though, poet Ross Gay’s insistence on excavating each day for small joys has been the blueprint with which I’ve tried to build my life throughout this time.

I first encountered Ross Gay’s A Book of Delights sitting on the corner of a sprawling handmade bookshelf while housesitting for a friend. When I picked it up, my friend assured me I’d enjoy it, so it became my companion for the week or so I visited his home. When it came time for his family’s return, my friend graciously let me keep the collection of essays, unknowingly passing me a key with which to unlock parts of myself I hadn’t previously accessed.

I'm grateful to not neglect small joys, and to excavate each day for the delights scattered throughout them.

Despite the collective sorrow and grief we’ve experienced and continue to contend with, I know I’ve cultivated a greater appreciation for the small delights that paint the joy in our lives. Looking ahead to the impending changing of the seasons, I’m grateful to not neglect small joys, and to excavate each day for the delights scattered throughout them.

So much of this past year or so has been an equal parts painful and euphoric crash course in what it means to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s easy to skip over the goodness when remembering the tough stuff, like fractured relationships, unstable housing, and countless struggles that have left me questioning where I am and where I want to be. It’s easy to forget to smile when your city is burning and your neighbors are being displaced, abused, and even killed. On top of all that, we’re still living through a global pandemic – one that seems to constantly change its course. 

But then I recall the good in the world: the blackcap bushes, a child’s giggles glorious under the afternoon sun. I recall the first time I rode my bike free of fear, the countless meals in my neighborhood park with lovers and friends – both six feet apart and as close as two people might be. I conjure up fires near frozen rivers and on frigid nights, how they kept me cozy in more ways than one.

Yes, there is uncertainty as we look ahead to the coming months. But there are a few things I’m certain of: The leaves will change and crunch under my boots while I relish that first deep breath of autumn air; the pots of soup on the stove will warm my belly, my hands, and hopefully the hearts of those I share them with; and I have an army of people, including so many folks in this community, who will be there through it all. I hope you, too, allow the small joys to reverberate in these coming days, and never, ever forget to hold each other.