The Power of Using Microjoys to Live a Grateful and More Present Life
Finding those small joys in life can make all the difference
Ira James/Courtesy Penguin Random House
The foundation of microjoys is subtlety. In an age of provocative headlines and FOMO, we are deeply attuned to what is loudest and most visible, leaving little space for nuance, quiet beauty and the absurdity of the day‑to‑day. So much of life occurs during the in‑between. And while we are gifting our full attention to the shiniest objects, we allow moments of profound joy, humor and meaning to simply pass us by. Like the rare sound of a bird chirping outside of your loud city window, the gorgeous light formation reflecting on the floor from a slightly open door, mistakenly wearing your underwear inside out (Oh, that was just me then!?) or the first time you notice you have the same hands as a cherished loved one. Ordinary moments like this happen quickly, and within seconds they become missed opportunities for joy.
Microjoys require us to pay attention to the details and acknowledge the fleeting, often miraculous nature of the everyday. As you read these next essays, I invite you to examine your own ordinary and delightful moments of microjoy—those that you’ve already experienced as well as those to come. As you do, try to remember that it is a choice to “put yourself in the way of beauty.”* And also in the way of humor and symbolism too.
* “There’s a sunrise and sunset every day. You can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” —Cheryl Strayed in Wild, quoting her beloved mother
Finding microjoys in a spice shop
My favorite Mediterranean spice shop is in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s been around for well over a century. Though we recently moved, I return to the shop as often as I can. And every single time, I leave with paper bags overfilled with more lovely items than I could ever possibly need.
I walk in and am enveloped by the delicious smell of fresh spices, a multitude of olives and more grains than I ever imagined could exist; bins full to the brim with goodness. I see the same smiling faces of the people who’ve worked there for decades. There is also the one man who insists on singing every time he sees me; it’s equal parts embarrassing and charming, but that kind of familial recognition is just another reason why I keep coming back.
I take a number to purchase bulk foods and wander the store while patiently and impatiently waiting for my number to be called. I hear the sound of fresh peanut butter being ground, a cheesemonger talking about his cheeses in striking detail and the hum of voices and languages that surround all of the daily activity of filling bins, buckets and shelves.
On a recent visit I picked up (in no particular order) lemon salt, rose petal preserves, Sicilian lemon extract, three kinds of olives, pink peppercorns, flake salt and, of course, dark-chocolate‑covered ginger. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with most of these items. But every time I see that jar of rose petal preserves on my counter at home, I’m instantly transported back to that bright winter afternoon that I walked into one of my favorite little shops in Brooklyn.
A place that’s been around this long could easily be overlooked as just a neighborhood grocery. But choosing to vividly see, touch, smell and listen to what happens when I walk through those doors—that is the fundamental magic of being present.
Finding microjoys in a glass piggy bank
On a business trip out West, I picked up a crystal‑clear glass piggy bank from a local shop. I had no particular reason for buying it and no specific person in mind to gift it to. I simply fell in love with it and allowed myself the indulgence of not needing any justification to purchase it.
When I arrived back home, I placed it on a shelf temporarily until I could figure out what to do with it. As the days turned into weeks, I’d drop coins—and sometimes bills—inside. There were two very lucky occasions that $20 bills made their way in as well.
After about a year, the little glass pig overflowed with money, and all of it was found. Shiny pennies discovered in puddles, a nickel left behind on a subway seat, a handful of change from the pocket of a thrifted jacket, a $20 bill left unclaimed on the floor of an empty elevator. Money, in all denominations, seemingly kept appearing wherever I went.
Of course, finding money is a microjoy, an ordinary lovely surprise. But another near‑missed microjoy is the recognition that in not having a specific reason for buying this little glass pig, I’d inadvertently given us a clear vessel to tangibly witness the abundance found in simply paying closer attention to the world around us. And in recognizing that, we experienced so much more of it. Since then, we’ve purchased a second matching glass piggy bank. It, too, is almost full.
Long live small indulgences.
How microjoys make us more in tune with ourselves
Microjoys are accessible to us when we are present. But the paradox is that they can also occur as insights made clear only by looking backward. Microjoys ask that we find beauty in the seemingly mundane, but they also require us to hone the ability to accept life as it is and still find beauty wherever we are. These tiny joys live in the ordinary space of accepting and holding both this … and that; both past and present as truth. Like deep grief and brief moments of pure joy, or overwhelming chaos punctuated by intermittent points of calm. Tragic and peaceful. Large and small. This and that, at any time, can both be true.
Unavoidably, in life we will face difficulties. And when we do, the occasional moments of observing microjoys are profound gifts that allow us the respite we need to briefly come home to ourselves. The time to recognize that though we may be broken, we will become whole once again. Sometimes it is within the confines of two opposite truths that we find the deepest acts of grace. And when that time comes, because inevitably it will, we must learn to be in that middle space and still allow ourselves moments of reflection and reprieve.
Many of us view the world through a simplified lens of right or wrong, leaving little room for nuance with the human experience. But when we do this, we miss out on the middle space of But. And. We miss out on the wisdom in knowing that we can be both happy and sad. Grieving and joyful. Rich and poor. Angry but grateful.
Microjoys teach us to experience and accept multiple, sometimes opposite, truths at once. When we allow ourselves to simply be in that middle space, all things can be true. And this deep knowing is both benevolent and permission giving. It grants us the compassion to accept joy in all forms always, even when life is most difficult.