A love letter to joy

Keathley Pinney Brown, Feature Writer

Romp of otters. Scurry of squirrels. Loveliness of ladybugs. 

I set out to explore joy after falling into a rabbit hole of researching animal group names. I read each playful name out loud to my housemates, and serotonin spiked with each word. When I went to bed that night, exaltations of larks soared in my dreams. 

Sometimes, when the pressure of school and life become overwhelming, joy can seem finite and out of reach. But as I learned with my late-night internet exploration of animal names, it can show up in unexpected and mundane places, brightening a day with something as simple as two words. 

When I sat down with junior Mercy Martinez for my first interview for this article, joy once again appeared in unexpected ways.

“Well, I kind of have a secret, but I don’t know if I should share it with you,” Martinez said. 

I stopped taking notes, ready to keep her secret off the record. We talked about it — to share, or not to share? By the end of the interview, Martinez had decided: it was time to spread the word. 

“I’ve been hiding rubber duckies everywhere,” Martinez said. “That’s me.”

Joy sparked in my chest at this confession. Maybe it sounds too perfect, but it’s true; once again, joy revealed itself suddenly with a cheery wave. I had seen the rubber duckies around campus and heard of the mysterious duck distributor through Yik Yak, where students celebrated finding one of the elusive prizes. Putting a face and name to the act hit home the fact that one of our peers had gone out of her way to bring happiness to others and had succeeded. That’s no little thing.

When I asked about where the duck idea came from, Martinez explained.

“It was something that I felt like I needed to do. I was like, what can I do to make people feel happier? So, seeing people on Yik Yak being like, ‘oh I found a rubber duck,‘ I’m like, ‘yes!'” Martinez said. “That’s another person whose day I’ve made better, I hope.”

Martinez finds joy in helping others and giving back to the community. She integrates joy into her everyday life, whether it be through hiding rubber ducks, donating groceries to the food bank or brainstorming large fundraising events to help people in need. 

For Martinez, joy is a communal act, a process of giving, sharing and receiving. Sometimes its origin is clear-cut, and other times, it pops out out of nowhere — like stumbling upon a hidden duck. 

I was learning that joy is not something we can always predict. Sophomore Ash Joshi sees this as well, equating joy with the unexpected. 

“To be able to deal with the uncertainty is joy for me,” Joshi said. 

Uncertainty can be scary, but it can also act as a fresh canvas upon which we can paint our joy throughout the years. We don’t know where we’ll be in five years, and that makes our destination that much more exciting once we arrive. 

Illustration by Alicia Buchter.

If joy is a flower with its roots in uncertainty, its petals are made of the mundane. Joy doesn’t have to come to us in a life-altering event. Instead, it makes its home in quiet, day-to-day moments. 

Joshi finds joy in making coffee and listening to music. After receiving an espresso machine from their parents, Joshi began experimenting with the perfect cup of coffee. They take it slow, breathing in the rich smells and listening to music as the coffee brews. Music also creates joy for Joshi during their walk between classes. 

“When you’re walking to class, you have your headphones on, you get this amazing song — say, David Bowie — it’s just the right rhythm and you’re walking the right pace … I like that,” Joshi said.

Other small places where Joshi finds joy: opening the door for his housemates and saving them the trouble of rooting around for a key, watching YouTube videos and reading thought-provoking poetry and prose. When you start paying attention, the possibilities for joy become plentiful and constant. 

Sophomore Keziah Eckert also locates joy in the mundane. The day that we talked, a class reading had brought them unexpected joy. They’d sat down earlier to read the piece, thinking it would be just another assignment to check off their to-do list. As they worked through the reading, they came to appreciate the author’s poetic style, finding joy in writing from hundreds of years before. 

Eckert also finds daily joy in French, whether it be with their housemates at La Maison, in conversations at the French table in Cleveland Commons or swearing in French. They find the latter activity both hilarious and freeing, as the French language lacks some of the taboos of English, providing abundant opportunity to slip a curse or two into conversation. 

Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn has made it her mission to seek out joy every day. This is something she learned from her aunt, who told her, “Every day has joy. Find joy in every day; don’t go to bed until you find the joy.”

Instituting this tenet into her life has been a critical form of self-care for Dunn over the years, and she believes it has improved her life in every way.

“When you get into the practice of seeking it, it’s easy to find,” Dunn said.

Good news: joy is everywhere, and we can experience it daily.

Eckert, on the other hand, sees joy as less of something to actively look for and create and more as something that exists around us throughout the day.

To experience joy, they “[open] up [their] heart to see all of the beauty that’s already there in the world and all of the beauty that’s within people.” Being observant and receptive to the surrounding world opens their eyes to the wealth of joy that exists within everyday life. 

Joshi agrees, acknowledging the importance of nature.

“We lose our joy when we separate ourselves from nature, when we separate ourselves from where we came from,” they said. 

Something as simple as a walk around Bennington Lake, doing homework on Ankeny in the shade of a tree or taking the time to slow down and study the plants and flowers while walking to class can help us remain rooted in the natural world and develop joy from that connection. 

Even when the world feels too gloomy and despairing for joy to exist, it does. Being open and receptive to the unexpected little things can help us locate joy amid the chaos of everyday life. Once we find it, our position in the world, our connections with others, gratitude, love and excitement all strengthen. 

I, for one, found joy in talking with others about joy. As I write this, I am experiencing joy in watching the leaves fall from the trees outside of the library. I find joy in not knowing what little things I’ll stumble upon in the coming week. Hopefully, I may stumble upon lots of friendly dogs, a neighborhood cat, a fresh batch of cookies and maybe even a surprise rubber duckie tucked away on campus.