by Charlotte Duff

listen I love you joy is coming

(taken from ‘To The Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall’ by Kim Addonizio)

Recently, I found myself wondering if I ought to submit to the latest craze of decluttering and getting rid of things in order to have a more streamlined, efficient and organised life. I was thinking about this because of the arrival of the latest Netflix obsession people can’t seem to stop talking about: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Each episode sees Kondo visit an American family who are struggling with mess and clutter. Using her famed KonMari method, the family is encouraged to get rid of things that do not ‘spark joy’.

But what is joy? What brings us joy in our everyday lives? Is joy something linked to physical, material things and experiences? Or is it simply a profound feeling of happiness that can be experienced by something as ordinary as blue skies or a cup of tea?

By nature, I don’t think I am a particularly joyful person. I don’t think I radiate happiness or confidence, and I spend quite a lot of my time worrying or preoccupied with negative thoughts. I feel as if I’m constantly at war with myself – I’d like to feel more positive, but there’s something inside me that pulls me back and warns me to remember all that has happened before.

Now more than ever, it seems as if we are all trying to find happiness in some shape or form. Some friends of mine have quit jobs in favour of traveling around the world, some have cut ties with social media altogether in an attempt to feel more present and some have taken up mindfulness and yoga to try and feel less stressed. 

We are in the midst of strange and divisive political times – the era of Trump and Brexit has made many of us uneasy and anxious over the future and what it might look like. 

It’s no surprise that some of us are turning away from technology and social media in order to experience a connection more authentic.

Crystal healing has become popular as a way of connecting spiritually to the world around us, as well as the practice of meditation and mindfulness in order to feel more present. Keeping plants has also become a kind of antidote, with bathrooms, bedrooms and living rooms overflowing with greenery (mine included).

It is important to find joy wherever we can – and whilst I often used to equate happiness with spending money on possessions and experiences, I’m now trying to find it in simpler and more ordinary things. 

I made a pact with myself to write down, each evening, something that has brought me joy during the day. It’s similar to writing gratitude lists but in order to not get overwhelmed, I only need to find one thing. Sometimes, if I’ve had a particularly bad day, my notebook paper is blank save for a few words; ‘A friend texted asking how I was,’ ‘The dog fell asleep with her head in my lap,’ ‘Mum made me breakfast.’

On other days they have been a little more detailed; ‘Helped an elderly lady at the doctors as she got lost and she held my hands and told me I was wonderful,’ ‘Received a really lovely email from work,’ ‘An enormous box of chocolates arrived on my doorstep this morning.’ 

“I made a pact with myself to write down, each evening, something that has brought me joy during the day.”

Thinking about the joy present in the everyday made me turn to one of my favourite poems, ‘The Orange’ by Wendy Cope. The narrator describes how sharing an orange with friends made her feel happy, ‘as ordinary things often do just lately.’ She goes on to describe ‘the shopping’ and ‘a walk in the park’ as a new feeling of ‘peace and contentment’. 

The last lines ‘I love you. I’m glad I exist’ remind me of the feeling of exquisite happiness that often dawns on me in unexpected ordinary every day moments. Walking down a busy London street the other Sunday with the sun beaming and the promise of a late lunch with a friend, I found myself feeling grateful for the simple gift of being alive.

I haven’t watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo yet. I don’t really want to reorganise my life because I like it exactly how it is. I have a million books and half-written-in diaries. I keep birthday cards and photographs. I keep concert tickets and cinema stubs and even old post-its. I don’t want to part with these things because they are a part of me and a part of the life that I have lived so far. I don’t want everything to be on ‘the cloud’ or accessed through a screen – I need tangible real things to hold on to. 

Recently, and admittedly rather impulsively, I added another tattoo to my collection of scribblings. 

Across my arm, I have part of the last line of a poem by Kim Addonizio inked in the tattoo artist’s spindly handwriting: ‘joy is coming’. 

I’m not a religious person and I haven’t set foot in a church for a number of years, but I often say it to myself as a prayer, a reminder that things can be dark and bleak and painful, but there is always beauty and wonder close by. 

It might be hard or even impossible to feel it some days, but I’m learning to trust in the conviction that it is always there. 

Charlotte Duff | @charlottevduff

Charlotte is a freelance writer.

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