Happiness & Joy

Heartwrites, February

When I launched Prayers and Piazzas nearly seven years ago, I created it as a space to share my love of all things Italy (represented by the word piazzas), and a space to share all the other things in my life that bring meaning and joy (represented by the word prayers). “Prayers” topics cover writings about my husband and kids, and also things like gratitude, joy, books, other inspirations.

Over the years, the site has evolved to focus solely on the piazzas portion. Turns out there are plenty of people who love reading about Italy as much as I enjoy writing about Italy, and it has been a huge source of joy connecting with you all. But I have missed writing and sharing posts that fall under the prayers category… posts which I think of as “heartwrites”, because, sometimes, I just want to share what’s on my heart.

You all are such a wonderful and supportive community of people, and I hope you will indulge me if, ogni tanto…every once in a while, I share some of my heartwrites with you again here. Blessings. ❤

Sometime in the early days of this new decade, a concept caught my attention. It was the notion of awe, and how cultivating awe, actively seeking it in your day, can be a powerful and positive force. How it can be life changing. 

This fit in nicely with the happiness habits I was working to deliberately incorporate into my routine. I was following the advice of happiness expert Shawn Achor, who says that maintaining happiness is comparable to good health hygiene, something that is just part of our routine. We have little habits like brushing our teeth and washing our hands to keep our bodies healthy, and the same concept can be applied to our happiness. We need to care for our happiness every day, and this is easily done by incorporating small habits into our daily routine. 

One easy way of doing this is to scan your world every day for the positive, and keep a list. Achor suggests that writing three of these daily moments of positivity has a beautiful ripple effect. The more we acknowledge the cheerful or touching moments scattered throughout our day, the more of these types of things we begin seeing. And the recognition of these moments, daily, can significantly raise your level of happiness long term. Which has a heap of benefits on your emotional and physical well-being.

So as long as I was building the habit of scanning my day for positivity, why not start cultivating awe as well?

At first, it was easy. I mean, really easy. We happened to be enjoying a long snowy weekend in the Utah mountains, which are so clearly fashioned by God’s hand that they are well, awesome.

Prayers and Piazzas

And while I’m still working to seek moments of awe in my everyday life, it doesn’t just appear on a regular basis. Hence, the cultivation.

I added awe to my list of one-word intentions for the year. Rather than set New Year’s resolutions, I like the one-word challenge, where you pick a word to guide you throughout the year. A word to motivate and inspire you. Words such as courage or ambition or thrive or soar. Problem is, I can never pick just one word. So far, my words for 2020 are change, release, write, shine. And now, awe

And how about gratitude? Because gratitude is different than awe, or joy and even happiness, which sounds close to joy but is actually a bit different. Gratitude fits in somewhere, if not as a word on the one-word list, then certainly as one of the daily happiness habits recommended by Achor.

Next to join the one-word celebration is delight, courtesy of poet Ross Gay, who was recently featured on This American Life’s podcast episode titled The Show of Delights. Ross spent a year paying attention to specific and often tiny delights which populated his days, and wrote them down, which lent nicely to being collected into his latest project, The Book of Delights.

Following are excerpts from the podcast transcript, but I do encourage you to listen to his interview because hearing him share his words, in his voice, is, in fact, delightful.

From This American Life transcript. Italics are Ross’ words. Bold emphases mine.

Ross is an English professor at Indiana University, and a couple of years ago, he embarked on a specific mission– to think about delight. He made it a practice, in fact. For one calendar year, Ross would ask himself, what delights me? And then he would write it down. He set rules. He would do it every day, he would draft them quickly, and every single delight would be written by hand. 

I was learning as I was going. And frankly, I was learning how much some of these things delighted me. The question is always, why does that delight me? What does it do to a person to study delight? Or, as it emerges, to study joy every single day for a year? What do you discover

One of the things he discovered is the mechanics of how to find delight every day as a discipline. Because delight doesn’t just arrive, you need to actively go looking for it. Did you end up with a grand unifying theory on what delight is?

No. No, but I did end up with what feels like a kind of beginning theory of what joy is. [LAUGHS] I just had an image. Delight is like the butterflies flying around and landing on the thing that is joy.

Joy, delight, gratitude, awe, and even wonder…maybe they’re all just different facets of the same diamond?

Whatever it is, and however it happens, I want to recognize all of that in my days. I think Shawn Achor and Ross Gay are really speaking the same language, reminding us that these things are all there, every day, in our lives. But because they might appear in the tiniest of ways, we must be able to recognize them. Moments of joy and delight and the gratitude that comes with those things can be so small that they might pass through our days unrecognized. So keep watch. Every day.

Delight is different from awe — which, in my opinion, can hit you like a ton of bricks with its clarity. Awe is a black mountain silhouetted by the first  light at sunrise. Awe is the fiery sun slowly sinking into the Pacific on a clear evening. Or painting the clouds orange or pink if the evening happens to be cloudy. Awe is a is a newborn baby.

But the other things, they can be more subtle.

I thought about all this the other afternoon as I stood at my kitchen window, doing the ordinary task of washing the dishes. The weather had warmed and so I opened the window just above the sink, the one that looks onto our little kitchen garden, and planter, and to the wider world beyond. A soft wind with a hint of spring, warm and fragrant, breezed in.

Something about the water and the silky soap bubbles, the sunlight, the air, and being tucked into my familiar and cozy kitchen, the comfort of it all just filled me up. And then, a little chubby brown bird, one of our regular visitors here, landed gently on the edge of the garden fountain. It took a little sip of water, then went about the business of bathing in the few inches of water caught in the top dish of the fountain. It was all flapping wings and fluffy feathers and iridescent drops of water, having such a good time at the regular task of cleansing.

And there it was for me. A tiny, everyday moment of undeniable delight.

Interested in the daily happiness habits? Here’s Achor’s list of five habits, but he says that doing even just a couple of these for 21 days in a row can raise raise your happiness level long term:

  • Three gratitudes: Write three new things you’re grateful for today and why (even the smallest of things count!)
  • Two minute write: Think of one positive or meaningful experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours, then bullet point three details about that experience. Only spend a couple of minutes on this
  • The Fun 15:  Work in 15 minutes of fun, mindful cardio. Daily is preferred but even just three times per week works. 
  • Meditation/attention training: 10 to 20 minutes is all it takes
  • Connect with others: Achor suggests writing a two minute gratitude email or text to someone in your life, praising them on one of their strengths or expressing your gratitude for them. 

Read more here.  


10 thoughts on “Heartwrites, February

  1. Thank you for indulging us in this post! I’m glad you’re well, and we are lucky to have diligent bloggers like you to remind us of the importance of our mental/spiritual well-being. 🙂 Gratitude is something I’ve been trying to make a daily habit of, and I appreciate the other daily tasks, too. I am storing the list away so I can keep referencing it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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