Move Over Gratitude, It’s Time to Try Delight

As vaccinations increase and COVID rates fall in Oregon, many of us are venturing back into the world, albeit perhaps tentatively. A meal with friends or a fiddle jam in someone’s backyard can be exhilarating, tenderly heartfelt, and also a little terrifying. While we relearn how to make small talk and navigate who goes first in building entrances, now is a great time for trying out a new practice.

Many lawyers are familiar with gratitude practices, and some have even experimented with them. I want to introduce you to gratitude’s exuberant cousin, Delight. Delight has been a frequent topic of recent conversation, with Multnomah County Library selecting Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights for the “Everybody Reads” book of 2021. “This American Life” podcast aired a whole episode about delight.

Delight might seem like a strange choice of word to celebrate during a pandemic. After all, this last year presented us with so many legitimate reasons NOT to find delight in our situations, our surroundings, and our stories – from the local and intensely personal to the global and broadly human. Yet buzz about delight is suddenly everywhere. In a delightfully meandering conversation with Krista Tippett of On Being (“Tending Joy and Practicing Delight”), Ross Gay talks about writing an essay every day that formed the substance of his book. He shares that one of the things that surprised him was “how quickly the study of delight made delight more evident.” For those of us who have cultivated the daily gratitude list, the shift to noticing what evokes that feeling of joy is low-hanging fruit. For the uninitiated, however, the joys of delight are everywhere and available to all – if we will only look.

As we emerge from the cocoons (or confines) of our homes and Zoom screens and return to collective workplaces and shared public spaces with one another, the primary feeling for many is anxiety, possibly coupled with a bewildered fumbling effort to remember how to make socially acceptable eye contact in real life. Yet this new landscape of societal reopening provides so many opportunities to experience what we haven’t seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched for more than a year – sensory information that can trigger powerful emotions. Even those among us who went to the office during the pandemic may find that increased interaction with coworkers in particular, and renewed human connection in general, offers unexpected opportunities to encounter and appreciate delight.

Spending even a couple minutes a day observing moments of delight helps grow the good in our brains. When we focus our attention on things that foster our well-being, we use our neuroplasticity to change our brains to better help us weather intense experiences. Rick Hanson demonstrates this with a joy practice, and I highly recommend trying it with delight.

“It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.” – Ross Gay, The Book of Delights

Kyra would like to thank Tanya Hanson for her collaboration on this blog post.