Once a month, I like to point to all the good stuff I’ve been reading, watching and listening to, especially as it relates to what’s going on in the world and in my own life. If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed I’ve been thinking, writing, and posting about the theme of joy recently. Maybe you’ve seen an essay on my blog or post on Instagram. We’re finishing up that theme with a round up of resources from around the internet, off my shelves, and even on my own blog.
1. Nature, Joy, and Human Becoming from the On Being podcast. I listened to this episode during a run while on vacation, which is what got me thinking about joy. In this interview with Krista Tippett, Michael McCarthy, a naturalist and journalist, talks about the ways nature sparks joy in our lives. He also spends time talking through the definition of joy and how it might differ from happiness. I plan to come back to some of these ideas in an upcoming blog post, but I hope you’ll listen to the podcast in the meantime (or read the transcript).
From the essay: “If we look, what is joy, I say it’s an intense happiness; yes, it is. But it’s somehow one that is set apart. It’s not the same as fun, or even delight. We don’t use it to define our pleasure in eating a particularly well-made pizza. But we might well think it was appropriate to describe the feelings of a parent finding a missing child, finding them safe and well, or the feelings of a lover whose love for another person has long been unrequited but who, at last, finds it being returned. All I say is that joy looks outward to another person, to another purpose; and I say that joy has a component, if not of morality, then at least of seriousness. It signifies a happiness, which is a serious business.”
2. Waiting for Joy by Ryan Higginbottom for Fathom Magazine. In a culture that has commodified instant gratification, I love the ways this essay highlights the joy that can be found in waiting. The author touches on some deep biblical insights in the way Christian joy is hidden in expectation and longing. This is another theme I hope to write about on my blog this month, but this essay is a great way to begin the conversation.
From the essay: “Our enjoyment of God also has an already, not yet quality. We can enjoy him now—through private and corporate worship, through his presence by his Spirit, through his word. But what we enjoy now in part we will enjoy later in full.”
3. 143: At Home: Start With Your Senses (with Myquillyn Smith) on The Next Right Thing podcast with Emily P. Freeman. I bought Myquillyn’s new book Welcome Home because I listened to this podcast episode. For one thing, it’s fun to hear these two sisters have a conversation. (I miss MY sisters!) Also, I loved the way Myquillyn expanded on this idea of using nature and our five senses to align the inside of our homes with the natural changing of seasons. And to do it slowly! I didn’t mention it above, but she advocates for slowly transforming your house from one season to the next, at the same pace that nature itself seems to change.
From the Show Notes: “In an attempt to disrupt the cycle of overthinking and get out of my own head, I’m working to pay attention to my body, namely my five senses. This is not my most natural way. If you can relate, I hope that intentionally seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, and hearing might prove to be a grounding practice as we consider our next right thing in several areas of our lives. Today I’m glad to have my sister, Myquillyn Smith (The Nester), join me for a conversation about how to start with our senses at home. Listen in.”
4. A Good Life Doesn’t Mean an Easy One by Alison Gopnik for The Wall Street Journal. I know I’m supposed to be thinking about joy this week, not hard times, but I keep seeing how the two are connected. This article adds a new layer to that concept. I’m not sure what I think about the term “psychological richness,” but honestly, if you just substitute the word “joy” for that phrase, I think the whole article makes a lot more sense. [By the way, WSJ is a subscriber-based news outlet, but I was able to read the article without a subscription using the link above. When it asks about subscribing, just hit the close button in the upper right corner of the pop-up.]
From the essay: “What makes a good life? Philosophers have offered two classic answers to the question, captured by different Greek words for happiness, hedonia and eudaimonia. A hedonic life is free from pain and full of everyday pleasure—calm, safe and serene. A eudaemonic life is a virtuous and purposeful one, full of meaning.
“But in a new study, philosopher Lorraine Besser of Middlebury College and psychologist Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia argue that there is a third important element of a good life, which they call “psychological richness.” And they show that ordinary people around the world think so, too.”
5. The Glory of the World’s Twilight: A Tribute to Autumn by Ian Olson for The Mockingbird. This beautiful essay is a glowing tribute to fall and all it has to offer. He particularly narrows in on the season as the portender of death in the natural world and how that reflects God’s own redemption of all things through the death of his son Jesus.
From the essay: “This isn’t a natural theology — it’s a theology of the natural. The strange revelation of autumn is that the holy God is not afraid of death and decay; that he can use them to beautify his creation because he has faced Death head-on and subdued its terrors from within. Death’s mechanisms and artifacts are emptied of their defiling power and made to serve him. The Levitical laws guarding the border between life and decomposition are annulled and the world itself becomes an empty tomb testifying to the uncanny triumph of God.”
6. How to make friends as an adult by Marisa G Franco for Psyche. One of the greatest joys of my life is spending time with friends. Even during the pandemic, when we haven’t been able to be together in person, the Zoom chats and text threads and phone calls with friends have made life so much better. But though I love keeping in touch with friends I made in college and young adulthood, most of whom live out of state or in other cities, it’s been harder for me to make and keep new friends the older I get. This article has not only helped me understand why, but has given me some great ideas for moving friendship higher up on my priority list.
From the essay: “If we’re not careful, we risk living out our adulthoods friendless. This is a situation that’s worth avoiding. Friends are not only a great source of fun and meaning in life, but studies suggest that, without them, we’re also at greater risk of feeling more depressed. It’s telling that in their study ‘Very Happy People’ (2002), the American psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman found that a key difference between the most unhappy and most happy people was how socially connected they were. Friends give us so much, which is why we need to invest in making them.”
7. Your Stargazing Guide To Fall: One ‘Halloween Blue Moon,’ Two Eclipses And A Once-In-397 Years Sight by Jamie Carter for Forbes. Fall seems like the perfect time for stargazing: sunsets get earlier and earlier, the evening air feels fresh and brisk, and many of our fall traditions seem to land us outside at just the right time. I printed out this stargazing guide for myself so I can keep up on all that’s happening in the sky this season.
From the article: “So what has the night sky got lined-up for us stargazers in the three months ahead? From three full Moons—one of them a special “Blue Moon”— and a super-bright planet to a handful of magical meteor showers and a couple of eclipses, there’s going to be plenty to keep stargazers occupied in the coming season.”
8. An Ode to Small Talk: How about this weather? by James Parker for The Atlantic. Small talk often gets a bad rap for the way it perches in the superficial and expects mediocrity. But in the eyes of Parker, small talk is a way for us to act like a human in the midst of days that are otherwise automated and isolated.
From the article: “Some of my most radiant interactions with other human beings have been fleeting, glancing moments of small talk. It’s an extraordinary thing. A person stands before you, unknown, a complete stranger—and the merest everyday speech-morsel can tip you headfirst into the blazing void of his or her soul.”
9. The Divine Tension of 2020 by Pahtyana Moore for The Cultivating Project. Moore accomplished in this single essay what I’ve been circling around all month with regard to joy and its intimate acquaintance with sorrow. This piece is especially prescient because Moore first thought and wrote about this tension last December, before the world was turned upside down by the pandemic, a recession, racial reckoning, and more.
From the essay: “If we look at the sorrow of 2020 not as a context that maintains the absence of Joy but as something that in its very design makes room for Joy, then ironically, it is possible that we can find Joy in all things. Even now. If sorrow has been continually with us, then from this perspective, we discover a space is continually being made for Joy.”
10. The Wonder of Joy: Nature & Happiness and The Wonder of Incarnation: Joy Is Here from my blog. I’ve found it to be joy itself considering the way the Bible talks about joy. In the first post, I write about the way God seems to have woven joy into the very fabric of nature. I particularly love the way Psalm 65 depicts the movement and energy of nature and taps into God’s favor and care for the earth as evidence of His favor and care for us. In the second post, I take a look at the way the prophets write about joy and how God’s presence is indelibly linked to the way Israel did or did not experience joy. The same is true for us.