The Joy Project

Yesterday, a very kind man asked me to name three things recently that have brought me joy. I was a bit down in the dumps (to put it very, very mildly), it wasn’t an out of the blue question.

I paused.

“My son. My kids. They bring me joy. They’re so funny, if you just listen to them and their funny little ways, the questions they ask, the gratefulness for small things (sometimes), the kids, they laugh so much. They bring me joy.”

He nodded, and gestured for me to carry on.

“And… The day before yesterday I found a tiny white feather on the ground. My son spotted it and said it was a feather from Grandad. He said Grandad left it there for him so he would know he was still with him. He’s four. He’s lost a lot in his short life, he seems to have a pretty good handle on dealing with loss, gosh, more so than his mother. We sat down on the pavement, outside a car garage, and said hello to Grandad. We talked about him, his big smile, and then we picked up that feather and tucked it right inside the smallest pocket of Small Boy’s coat, so he could have Grandad with him wherever he goes.”

“Outdoors. The outdoors brings me joy. Birdsong. Tiny little buds on trees. A baby daffodil struggling through the soil at the base of a tree. Unexpected bursts of colour. Any purple or blue flowers. Hydrangea bushes. Brightly coloured front doors. The green parakeets that have made my neighbourhood their home. Sparrows hopping around on the grass. Swans on the lake. The lake in general. The river. Outdoors, brings me joy.”

He nodded again. And I decided, right there, that I was going to start a new, very simple project. I’m going to find and document things that bring me joy. Counting my blessings, if you like. Partly to help with my ‘black dog’, the anxiety, the panic and fear that seems to have caught up with me lately (see the ‘I can’t even open my own front door’ article). Partly to remind myself in my busy days to pause and take a moment to savour joyful things. Partly to share the joy with you, my lovely readers. I’m just snapping things on my phone as I go about my day to day life, saving them in a folder, and I’ll share them here on my blog. Sometimes life can be so busy and the days so full and the deadlines so imminent and the abuse so torrential and the time flies so fast and there’s so much to do…but in the words of William Henry Davis: “A poor life this, if full of care; We have no time to stand and stare.”

Go and find joy. Wherever you are. Whoever you are. The past few weeks have been some of the blackest, bleakest that I can ever remember, and I’m pulling myself slowly out of it, by indulging in some pockets of joy.

Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack.

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Categories: Blog, The Joy Project

83 Comments »

  1. This brought ME joy, to hear you able to list these things. Sorry for your loss, and keep well – know there are many who love you.

    • Good idea. I already do something like this. Everyday I write down a list of ‘Nice things today…’ and even on the crappiest day there is something, such as good health or knocking up something nice for tea. All the best.

  2. Hey Jack, it’s a good idea to do this. It’s called of being mindful, or practicing mindfulness. There’s science behind it, too! (Have you read Ruby Wax’s book “Sane New World”? I recommend it). Good luck!

  3. I’m with you all the way – I often get laughed at because I stop to say wow and how lucky I am when I see the small things of joy in everyday life but if we don’t recognise those how will we know something stupendous comes along? PS: I think it was William Henry DAVIES who wrote what is one of my favourite poems, a copy of which has lived on my fridge door for a long time now.

  4. Thank you for reminding us all that joy can be a choice. Yes sometimes it can almost feel forced but if you look for it you’ll start seeing it all over. I hope that bloody black dog gives you a few moments of peace and I think my mutt and I might join in. I’m going to start with the fact that I’m currently having a cup of Earl Grey with a slice of lemon in a cup that is lemon yellow making it instagram worthy. The fact that my phone camera is broken just means I get to enjoy this moment all to myself though. 🙂

  5. Abuse? Are you seriously getting abuse? Who from? Who are these horrible people who’s only interest is to be unkind! Well know this Jack, they are in the minority!!! You ARE loved, by your family, friends and so many people who don’t even know you, but who have found someone who is inspirational person who cares!

    Ignore the trolls! Xxx

  6. So many times I’ve read/heard about a white feather being found shortly after the death of a loved-one. In one case the feather was said to have appeared on an inside windowsill where the window had been locked for ages. Whatever the origin of his, Small Boy has found real comfort and that’s worth more than anything. No wonder he’s your joy!

  7. Yes to this Jack! Stop and smell the roses (both literally and metaphorically). I’m currently listening to the sound of gentle rain and the odd cricket and that is a pleasure. I must try to be more present.

  8. It can be a lonely world when the black dog is hanging around, let yourself grieve Jack, you’ve been so busy fighting on so many fronts you’ve forgotten how to look after you hence the anxiety and old fears your revisiting. If writing helps then go for it, what ever helps is fine just take time out to heal.

    Lou xx

  9. Very inspiring. That man was there at the right time for you. Your activism is one of my joys . It’s inspiring to see the hope you give.
    other joys, my little home, (the word is bijou) , my books. (other countries you can step into without having to book the flight, sort passports, holiday insurance etc. ) my music, Thomas Tallis (ASIDE from 50 shades !) is just plain beautiful on its own merits.
    colourful food, flavoursome food, (both in abundance here) etc etc.

    keep that flag flying high,

  10. I’ve done a similar thing (a ‘happy book’) on and off for years. It’s the last thing I do before sleep each day, and the thing that never fails to surprise me is that there’s always, ALWAYS, three things I can find from that day that have made me happy. Even if it’s been the bleakest, most miserable day, there’s always been a nice-shaped cloud, or a cheerful-looking pigeon, or a chocolate biscuit at lunch. I find that it’s most helpful as a project when things are at their worst, and it’s amazing how actively looking for happy things makes them more apparent. I read once that ‘you find what you’re looking for’, so resolved to look for happiness. Good luck Jack, you’re awesome.

  11. Jack, having recently had a troll on twitter abuse me then call me on my home landline, email me and my two editor employers to threaten me (and them) which resulted in the police warning him off, I have tasted a small fraction of what you bravely face every day. It really gets under your skin doesn’t it? All I can advise is to never respond except through your work. The honesty, integrity and emotional investment of and in your writings and other projects act as enough ‘proof’ of you as a good person trying to do your best. Reading and responding to them will wear you down in the medium to long term.

    I too try to find joy in the small things (and the big too!). I am an avid reader of nature writing which really helps. It is impossible to read ‘Waterlogged’ by Roger Deakin or ‘Arctic Dreams’ by Barry Lopez and not feel uplifted and I wonder if you might find the same solace and escape in them too- of you can find a small window of time? I include a link to some reviews I wrote about my favourites. I truly am not trying to use your blog to promote myself but wanted you (and others) to maybe see in them what I do. http://nicmillerstales.com/2015/01/30/the-best-nature-writing/

    You have brought joy and validation to others too by giving them a place in the media. People in power have to work that little bit harder now to pretend that poverty in the UK and its negative and enduring effects upon the person does not exist. I hope that in the darker times this provides some comfort and bolstering for you.

    Don’t forget to nurture that inner room of your own Jack and the busier you are, the more you must do so. Proactively build in space each hour- even one minute of staring at the sky can help- and remember to say no.

    (((( hugs ))))

  12. Finding that the snowdrop bulbs I had planted and completely forgotten about have flowered in a little clump under the apple tree. That is really magic ! Keep up the good work, Jack. Your project will bring you so much joy and satisfaction. Us old dears (pensioners) are quite experienced at counting our blessings and I can assure you it is so worth while.

  13. It’s really powerful to make a list (or take photos) of those little things. I knew about it as a concept from therapy years ago, you know, before you go to sleep reflect on five things that made you happy during the day. Always felt like a bit of a failure because, honestly, some days didn’t have five things. A couple of years ago I wanted to get back to at least cherishing those small moments when they do happen and I started a simple list on my blog. Even if it’s only something like a really good cup of tea, I usually remember to write it down now. It’s a big help when I’m going through a bad patch to read back over that list and remember how it really is the little things that build up to a wonderful whole, somtimes it’ll make me cry but it also brings me hope in a fundamental way that really helps me.

  14. Trolls suck and should receive a dose of their own medicine! This post made me happy. The rosemary for rememberance heart made me happy and seeing all these positive comments to someone these people don’t know made me happy. There are good people in the world. There is good in the world, if we just look.

    Chin up, my lovely. Tomorrow is another day to try again. Rock bottom can be comfy for a while when your legs are too weak to stand; and there’s no shame in making a temporary home there. Believe me, I know. I’m on my knees some days, I’m in hotel rock bottom other days. But the days that I’m able to stand and those when I’m able to walk remind me that once day I’ll be running again. And THAT makes me happy. It gives me hope during those days the black dog sitting on me gnawing on my foot. And sometimes, when I am in hotel rock bottom I read my favourite excerpt from The Desiderata of happiness by Max Ehrmann and remember, remind myself that tomorrow is another day to try again.

    ‘You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
    and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
    With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy. ‘

  15. Wonderful Jack! You’d love my Embrace Happy site I think…not every day is good but there is good in EVERY day! Well done you for taking steps to embrace happy! (www.embracehappy.com)

    Karin xx

  16. I think I’ll join you. Had fairly sizeable anxiety attacks the last few days where breathing has become an issue due to the looming wedding stuff and then this morning the bailiffs came to try to repossess the other halfs car at 6am due to a payment he thought he’d made but has seemingly gone awry (cue a trip to dads so he could bail us out til payday/it gets sorted).

    I need to start thinking of good stuff…and this is a great idea

  17. The things that happen to us don’t have intrinsic meaning, we decide what meaning they have for us. Thus happiness is definitely a state of mind and not something that happens to us – it is possible to make yourself feel better or worse *despite* what’s happening. Raising your vibration by focussing on the good things you love or enjoy as you describe is a brilliant way to do that. Some people have two jars and slips of paper. One for worries, one for joys. If you have something that is worrying you that you can do something practical about, do that, but if it is one of those things you can’t do anything about, write it on a slip of paper and make an appointment to think about it at some time in the future… and refuse to think about it until then. When the time comes, open the jars and read the papers. Often the worries will have changed or are no longer worries, while the joys remain things that make you happy.

  18. I don’t agree with lots of things you say politically but it is a free world with free speech but I love your blog, love the fact you have found love, love the way you love your children, love your recipe for soda bread. So have a lovely day dear Jack

  19. Oddly whenever I am asked to log in by wordpress, my comment vanishes. Raising your vibration by focussing on things that make you happy is a good way to change your mood, as is looking outward and helping someone else. Which is what you’re doing when you blog. I daresay that you will be one of the joys that a lot of people who follow your blog can count. I know that’s true for me – I think you are making a positive difference to the world in a lot of ways, and what more could you want than that?

  20. Jack, I’m so with you on this one. Life can change in a heartbeat, and the ability to find joy in the little things is very underrated. I hate seing some of my friends on social media moaning about first world problems, if you have love, a roof over your head and can pay your bills you are rich. Hope your black dog takes itself for a long walk, but never forget to ask for help if you need it xxxx

  21. At the end of each day (usually when laying in bed, worrying about something!) I distract myself by thinking about at least 3 positives from the day – sometimes they are tiny things but it makes me feel so much calmer. Some people keep a ‘mindfulness’ journal, and write down the things in each day that have made them happy.mi think this is a great idea xx

  22. I look forward to sharing your joy. 🙂

    Here’s a happy moment from my day: there was a lady reading a book at my bus stop this morning, and she was at the bus stop on the way home, too. I find it hard to talk to strangers, but I asked her about her book. We only exchanged a few friendly sentences, but it cheered me up.

  23. Thank you for this, it really did make my day.
    We are all so busy nowadays that we do forget to stop and appreciate the little things.
    I always smile as I cross the car park to my local morrisons as there is a bush that sings, it is packed with hundreds of sparrows which are hidden amongst the branches, it always sounds so full of joy.
    I also have a little wren that has started to visit my garden which makes me feel blessed.
    There are lots of people in this world that appreciate what you do Jack, you’re a strong role model, and it’s ok to not be perfect all the time. Those sodding dogs get everywhere xx

  24. The inspiration I get from you brings me joy, along with your posts that keep us entertained, informed, well fed, the list is endless…. Sending big hugs and love to you and yours, especially for those days you need them most

  25. Thanks – you’ve helped to cheer me up! It’s easy to lose sight of what’s going well in life, in the middle of stress and worry. The sound of birdsong today really cheered me up – spring is on its way! And I had a great time doing some teaching work today, so that’s my three!

  26. Have you come across the Gratitude Jar idea? I love the thought of doing something like that. Mr Google will probably be able to tell you more!

  27. I’m sorry about the abuse. Such sad people. Yours is the first blog I go to in the morning, and it brightens my day to read something from you. That would be one of my joys. Your story gives me hope in my bleakest moments – it helps me to believe that one day my life will feel as though it is worth living. Little children truly ARE one of life’s great joys. I love phone calls from my little grandchildren (2 and 5) They are full of wonder and joy and magic. I hope you will feel better. You so deserve happiness. Thank you for all you have done for me and for many others.

  28. I love the outdoors too, the best thing is being sad and then taking the dog out and seeing the sky, the grass, the clouds and -yes-even the rain. Mother Nature’s so uplifting. I’m lucky to live near the hills, and I can go out for a walk in the day.

  29. Reblogged this on a flying aspidistra and commented:
    What a good idea… Note what brings us joy and have those notes handy for those grey, sad moments. Why not get a pretty notebook, small enough to slip in a pocket or handbag? Even stick little things like a feather, or a ticket for a concert that was good…

  30. Hi! I’ve enjoyed your blog for such a long time and admire your work. About joy: every night at dinner I ask the kids to talk about their highs and lows of the day. We laugh and congratulate the good news and sympathize and occasionally problem solve about the lows. It’s a great reminder to take a moment and be grateful for the big and the small, the laughs and the cries, the company around the table. Keep up the great work!

  31. Just back from a book swap group. I took along Pay it Forward. Such a great book (and film). Reminded me that I haven’t done many random acts of kindness recently. Then, I read your blog and think – just be grateful for all the small things. Thank you Jack. Feel better. x x x

  32. Thank you Jack for reminding me of some joy – having a really dark day myself – today is the first anniversary of the death of my lovely “pops” my dad who I miss so so much.

  33. This works for me..every day note. A. What do you thank the Universe most for today (or God if you have belied) B. what touched you most today. C. What did you enjoy most today? When you have been doing it for a while the answes come quite distinct, also good to do with partner and find yourself sharing many things that may never have been otherwise. Sorry you have not been feeling great

  34. What you’re describing we call warm fuzzy book, for the feeling it gives you. My youngest daughter has health problems and belongs to a group called ChIPS (chronic illness peer support) which is run out of the Royal Childrens Hospital in Melbourne, and each year at their camp they get a small exercise book each . They are left in the common room and people write nice things about you in them.

  35. What a lovely piece of writing and,(I’m a professional photographer), a brilliant photo too 😉
    I cooked your mushroom and cannelloni bean with black tea dish for dinner last night- it was like your writing…..rather special !

  36. Lovely idea, photos will be a great visual reminder. Do have a look at buttonsy jewellery on Facebook who has a jar of joy entry every day. People share such awesome things from seeing a snowdrop, sharing a personal moment/event or just enjoying the small things in life. Makes me smile every day. Keep strong x

  37. one of my best sister friends was diagnosed out of the blue last Friday with acute leukemia and has been in hospital ever since. I have just moved back to Oz after 22 years in Ireland and we had been spending fab time together.

    we’re still spending each day together but it’s in hospital as she has blood transfusions and chemo.

    to say that we are stunned at this swerve in the life road would be an understatement.

    my friend has designated me her exec assistant and beauty stylist so there is beauty in her room [an antique japanese tea cup; japanese teapot; gorgeous quilt, teddy bear,] and much love.

    yesterday I came back from the hospital exhausted and teary knowing that this is a marathon journey not a sprint.

    your blog post came up randomly on my FB feed and delighted me. I always take time to stop and look for the magic and beauty that literally surrounds us and reading your wonderful words just helped me move back to that awareness in this maelstrom of a new path that my friend and I are on.

    thank you – you’re words made a difference today.

    xxxxx

    Liz

  38. Hi Jack, I have been reading your blog since its early days and look forward to each new post.

    What you wrote today about joy really struck a chord. When life was a dark shade of grey for me, looking after a long-term sick parent and next-to-no money, I would write down each evening 5 things from my day for which I was grateful or that had made me smile. Sometimes it was as simple as a Blackbird coming to visit just outside my kitchen window. Fortunately, my life has moved on and the greyness has gone but a lot of my happiness still comes from what I call ‘small pleasures’ like my friend the Blackbird.

    I hope that the rain clouds lift for you soon. You are an amazing person!

  39. “Surprised by Joy” – to quote CS Lewis’s book about his wife (the basis for the film and play, “Shadwlands”) is exactly right. Letting oneself be stopped and amazed and cheered by a little something joyous is a welcome surprise that can happen every day – and often does, if one gives oneself half a chance to notice it.

    A huge open sky – whether starry at night, or blazing with sunshine or just temporarily bright between showers during the day – is the perfect opportunity. Sky over open country is even better – or enough green space that one can’t see its edges – or even just friendly streets. The best part of a pre-dawn start to my flying trip to Scotland by train yesterday was going up through the rolling hills north of Lancaster past snow-covered Cumbrian hills. That and sudden, brilliant sunshine illuminating rain-wet pavements as I left New Register House at teatime – and not just because I hadn’t been outdoors to get equally sodden myself.

    For Jack and everyone who reads your delightful blog – be of good cheer: it’s out there, just waiting for you to notice it and rejoice.

  40. I made your ‘Not meatballs with a variation of the Tom pasta recipe’ and also the ‘Roast carrots, garlic, cumin and chickpeas soup’ both gave me and my family a great deal of joy. It was great teaching my daughter how to cook real food. I kept a gratitude diary in the past and it gives you time to reflect and on what is important. You bring so much joy to other people, you deserve joy. Revel in it and stop working so hard!

  41. As Taylor Swift so wisely says, ‘the haters gonna hate, hate hate. So shake it off.’
    Ignore the haters. I admire and am in awe of how much you have achieved at such a young age. I wish I could have done half of what you have managed at my much older age.
    And the rosemary heart is healing and beautiful. The ancient Greeks would be right there with you on that.
    Stay safe, brilliant girl called Jack.

  42. http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/pp/overview.php?p=c2lkPTI=

    I came across this site last year and slowly worked my way through the pages, I bought several of the recommended books and now each night and before getting out of bed in the morning I try to remind myself of 5 things that made me happy that day. It works! But the most important thing is to smile, this simple act has so many positive psychological and physical effects it is quite unbelievable, rather like your banana and oat muffins! 🙂

  43. This is a wonderful idea, Jack. So sorry to hear you have been having such a horrible time. I’ve found the last little while really tough too. Looking for joy is so helpful – I think I might join you!

  44. Hi Jack, I have been following you blog for a while now, so I decided it was a good time to post a comment.
    My advice: when I feel a bit under the weather, I sing “A few of my favourite things” from “The sound of music”.
    Silly? Yes. Does it help? Not always, but singing is always fun!

    Take care, it’s all going to be ok!

    xx G

  45. sory to read of your black dog days, i,ve always thought what an amazing person your are from day one, you inspire, be happy.

  46. Thank you for this Jack. I usually start looking for the small joys when my black dog comes to visit in the dark days of winter. It really helps give him the boot.
    Keep going Jack and give that black dog the elbow. x

  47. hey Jack
    You may like to look this up, its a similar project from Oz, started by Hailey Bartholomew, when she was feeling pretty low…
    http://365grateful.com/
    It involves taking photos of something you are grateful for every day.
    Also, one of my favourite quotes is:
    ‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. Its about learning to dance in the rain’. by Vivian Greene.
    I am grateful for your blog.
    cheers
    C

  48. Jack, having recently had a troll on twitter abuse me then call me on my home landline, email me and my two editor employers to threaten me (and them) which resulted in the police warning him off, I have tasted a small fraction of what you bravely face every day. It really gets under your skin doesn’t it? All I can advise is to never respond except through your work. The honesty, integrity and emotional investment of and in your writings and other projects act as enough ‘proof’ of you as a good person trying to do your best. Reading and responding to them will wear you down in the medium to long term.

    I too try to find joy in the small things (and the big too!). I am an avid reader of nature writing which really helps. It is impossible to read ‘Waterlogged’ by Roger Deakin or ‘Arctic Dreams’ by Barry Lopez and not feel uplifted and I wonder if you might find the same solace and escape in them too- of you can find a small window of time?

    You have brought recognition and validation to others too by giving them a place in the media. People in power have to work that little bit harder now to pretend that poverty in the UK and its negative and enduring effects upon the person does not exist. I hope that in the darker times this provides some comfort and bolstering for you.

    Don’t forget to nurture that inner room of your own Jack and the busier you are, the more you must do so. Proactively build in space each hour- even one minute of staring at the sky can help- and remember to say no.

    (((( hugs ))))

    • Totally understand I too have times when trying to help and support others who are having a rough time I feel lost and sad but a few comedy shows and a sweet treat can help all the best to you Jack!

  49. Ah Jack you have stumbled on a wonderful approach. On the darkest days when there is the biggest fattest black dog sat on your chest, there will be always be moments of joy and pleasure to be found. Believe it. The belief helps…… Someone making you a cup of tea, the beauty of raindrops on a window, a single flower or a new bud, even the past happy memories as they are yours and can’t be taken from you.
    So many of us have lost more than we could ever have imagined. You are so not alone.
    An attitude of gratitude, counting blessings deliberately each day, even when it sometimes takes a lot of concentration to spot any, a notebook or journal or a daily snapped photo are wonderful helpful tools.
    Yes the Ruby Wax Sane New World is well worth a read. Very insightful and entertaining – it helped me onto my recent path of discovering mindfulness and daily meditation……so much great info out there now about this……..basically your breath is the most powerful thing you have with you all the time that will ground and heal you. Sit, breathe deeply until the fears/pain ease. Because they will. Always.
    And pay the trolls no heed hon, easier said than done I know but BREATHE DEEPLY, step back, know you are safe, you are loved, just for being you. Never mind that you have achieved marvelous fantastic incredible inspirational things, way too many to mention……..You shine brightly.
    And many congratulations on your wonderful BBC award……..so well deserved……

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