March Reflections: On Joy

On a recent sunny afternoon, with the temperature climbing into the 50s for the first time this year, I felt something I haven’t experienced in a long time: joy. Spring in New York is always magical—buds appearing on trees, flowers pushing up from the soil, parks filling with picnickers and joggers—but this year it feels extra special. How could it not? After a long winter and the exhausting pandemic year surrounding it, good things are finally coming. Good things are already here.

March brings us Daylight Saving Time, with its extra hour of evening light, and the first official day of spring. At the time of this writing, the CDC reports that over 81 million Americans have received at least one shot of the Covid-19 vaccine, and over 44 million are now fully vaccinated. We’re not out of the woods yet—public health officials warn that we still have to keep up social distancing and masking precautions in public spaces to avoid the spread of variants—but with every new vaccination, our communities are getting safer and healthier.

If the past year has been about endurance—doing whatever it took to get through—I’d like to propose that we dedicate the coming season to celebration. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the words of the great 20th century theologian and philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.”

As adults, we celebrate big milestones like weddings, significant birthdays, and promotions, occasions that feel special in part because they’re rare. But I remember that when I was a kid, so many things felt like cause for genuine celebration: losing a tooth, school letting out for summer break, the thrill of every single birthday. Adults aren’t supposed to get excited about every little thing, right? It’s too earnest, it’s frivolous, it’s embarrassing.

Well, forgive me. This spring, I’m leaning into earnestness. I’m thinking of all the things I merely enjoyed in the past: hugging my mom, having friends over for dinner, seeing live music, traveling somewhere new. Now, I feel almost overwhelmed with gratitude and delight to think about having those things back in my life.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. The psychologist and happiness researcher Elizabeth Dunn says that as we emerge from our year of lockdowns, canceled plans, and isolation, we’re likely to experience a “happiness reset,” finding ourselves overjoyed by activities that might’ve seemed like no big deal before. “You can do something pretty simple and it’s going to feel fantastic,” Dunn told The New York Times in a recent interview.

If there’s one thing I appreciate about the past year, it’s the way we’ve been forced to reckon with all the things we once took for granted.  These feelings may not last forever, but for as long as they do, I’ll be celebrating. 

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