The book Small Pleasures will warm even the stoniest heart. It defines joy as simple, brief instances in everyday life which people can access with little or no cost. My favourite chapters include: the joy of an evening sky, letting a child win at a game, a hot bath. We tend to let these things pass by unnoticed for the pursuit of other, bigger pleasures. This year, we had time to stop and pay attention.
My new peace of mind was interrupted last week as I walked down a quiet pavement on a blue-sky day enjoying the cold air and sun on my face. A van drove past, the driver wound down his window, beeped his horn and shouted something sexist at me. I felt angry. I had an urge to chase after him and call out something equally offensive. As well as small pleasures, there are many small annoyances in life, things that grate or get on my nerves. For example: passive aggressive people, face masks, cold coffee, people that say ‘cheer up’ or ‘smile it may never happen,’ adverts, form checking, drivers who come up right behind me on the motorway, hiccups, small talk, being told to sit down, one word answers in texts, people who don’t listen and tourists who walk so slowly they might as well be standing still. I sent a message on my sibling whatsApp group asking them to make a list of all their small pleasures and small annoyances. They said it proved more satisfying writing about the everyday loves rather than the everyday hates, and that writing a list of all the simple delights made them feel happy.
My sister Pandora had sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She was told she wasn’t going to survive. I watched her fight for her life in the face of huge adversity including having her face reconstructed, infections, meningitis, epilepsy and losing her sense of taste and smell forever. Fortunately, she recovered. Months later I stood on top of a hill with her looking out at a beautiful view. A tear slid down her cheek and I asked her why she was sad. She said, ‘I’m not sad, just thankful.’ Walking, trees and storms outside were amongst her lengthy list of pleasures which contained many things we often take for granted. But most strikingly, at the top of her list was simply, ‘the beginning of the day.’
So, I’m not going to scold myself for enjoying my own little delights. I’ll stare out the window and go on rambling walks when a voice tells me I should be working or getting things done. If I’m feeling stressed or frightened about the future, I will take a step back. I’ll spend too long in the bookshop, curl up by the fire with my dog and kiss her velvet ears or light a candle and listen to old festive tunes. And next time an annoying, shouting man in a van comes along, I won’t let him ruin my day.
For more information about sarcoma, visit https://sarcoma.org.uk