A couple of weeks ago, This American Life podcast producer Bim Adewunmi hosted an episode called The Show of Delights. I love the fun insights and interesting cultural perspectives Bim brings to the show, many of them from her life experiences as a Nigerian-British woman in America.
In this episode she admitted that embracing delight is not easy for her. It makes her feel self conscious about being “too much” emotionally, which was often frowned upon in the British culture she grew up in. The antidote? To seek delight as a daily discipline and build the habit of sharing it with others.
The Book of Delights
In The Show of Delights, Bim talked about ordinary joys in her interview with poet Ross Gay, English professor at Indiana University and author of The Book of Delights. For an entire year, Gay wrote down daily by hand everything that delighted him, which was later published in his book. Bim shared how much she loved the book and described her efforts to practice an awareness of simple pleasures like the ones Gay writes about in his essays and poems.
I recalled having The Book of Delights somewhere at home, so I went looking for it and sure enough, there it was next to another book by Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, a collection of poems with irresistible titles like To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian and Armpit and Ode to Sleeping in my Clothes.
I hadn’t read much of the Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, which I had intended to gift to a friend but never got round to it. So I picked both books from my book case and enjoyed rediscovering Gay’s effusive expressions of appreciation for the oddest things like figs and his “ugly feet” and bird poop on his face.
Like Bim, one of my favorite stories from The Book of Delights was Gay’s account of carrying a tomato seedling with him on a flight, an adventure that evoked all manner of delightful encounters with people, from a TSA agent and flight attendant to fellow travelers and curious onlookers.
Today our culture increasingly embraces present moment appreciation, which makes invitations like Gay’s to delight in small joys around us more approachable. So as I was driving home this week after a long day, I offered my appreciation for the flow of traffic, the (mostly) nice drivers, air conditioning on one of the hottest days this summer, and my Phil Collins playlist.
Later that evening, I paused to delight in a simple family dinner of pasta salad and ginger beer with fresh mint from our garden. And it was so lovely to feel the freshly laundered cool sheets that night as I slipped into bed.
Moments of delight can be found daily. Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that mindfulness is an awareness of the “refreshing and healing elements” that can be found in the here and now. If we can pause and come home to the present moment, we can discover many “conditions of happiness” that can nourish us right where we are.
That’s got to be the most number of times I’ve used the word “delight” in an article. Now for the joyful daily practice of acknowledging the different ways it shows up in my life. And finally giving that book to my friend, that he may delight in reading it.