sparkels, header for the diary of delights

In times of uncertainty and worry, it can be difficult to cultivate joy. It can even seem frivolous. When you’re busy just being alive, you might have little time and energy left to be happy. E&M’s Sarah Gerwens tries, nonetheless. She takes us along on her expedition to excavate delight in our days, trialing self-help clichés and science-backed happiness strategies, and interspersing our 6th Sense feed with joys big and small. This is the first installation of her ‘Diary of Delights’ that we will keep publishing until further notice / the end of the world (whichever comes first).

In 2021, I’m going to be delighted. Maybe even happy. 2020 was a dumpster fire of a year, exhaustingly unprecedented. But even then, there was delight. There must have been. Somewhere, there were flowers, maybe, or sunshine, or someone ate a very delicious croissant. We might not have noticed, though, with everything else cloying for attention. This year, I’ll be on a scavenger hunt for these moments. I’ll try out ways to create and savour them. And, because talking about delight is delightful, scientifically so, you get to come along for the ride – maybe you even join me. (If you want to start some other new habit of your own, have a look at Jurek’s guide to new year’s resolutions.)

Seize the means of delight

We’ve learned to look at delight as a luxury, a privilege even. That’s not the delight I’m talking about. I’m talking ‘simple pleasures’; the way of looking outside the window to spot the birds. It can be a meal shared (on zoom) or a good night text. Delight might be Spotify finally suggesting a good song. Sometimes it is checking the time and noticing you made it another hour. I vouch for the tiny joys, the microcosm of content contained in something looked at with love. This is a delight reclaimed from Hollywood and Instagram, from the wellness industry. Its not unrealistic or ignorant, it can run in parallel to pain.

Of course, some of the strategies we will explore in this series require resources: time, energy, focus, even a yoga mat, a nearby park, or running shoes. Joy is not equally accessible; positive thinking is no substitute for food, for fair pay, (mental) health care, equality, or justice. It’s not on us to be happy in an unhappy system; but there is no harm in trying.

So, I present to you: the diary of delights. Delight, that is “something or someone that gives great pleasure, satisfaction, or happiness (thanks, Cambridge Dictionary), in all orders of magnitude. Over the next year, I’ll explore techniques to find and cultivate it, I’ll share my delights with you. This column won’t promise you that scented candles will ‘change your life’ or that meditation will ‘help you get your dream job’ – although, if it does, good for you and are you hiring? Instead, we’ll have a look at some psychological research, publish photo diaries of delight, and talk to some very happy people. I don’t know how to fix the big problems (apart from revolution, of course), but maybe we can find a way to spot the joy alongside them.

Sit back, strap in, shoot yourself a smile; and share your own diary of delights, including with us. Comment, tweet, email, send a carrier pigeon. I look forward to the delight to come, we all sure as hell could do with a little more of it.

Disclaimer: I am wholly indebted to Ross Gay, who wrote a wonderful Book of Delights, a This American Life episode about the same topic, and the brilliant Nicoletta Enria, who recommended all this to me over pizza many months ago (a delight in its own right).

Cover photo: Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash license

  • retro

    Sarah Gerwens lives in London, but grew up in Dortmund, Germany. Currently a PhD student, she holds BAs in Global Studies and Psychology from Hofstra University and an MSc from the London School of Economics. In the past, Sarah has interned in the European Parliament, the Bundestag, an anti-torture NGO, and the GIZ.

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