Does it bring you joy?


With one of my literacy teachers (the tall one) and three of her students.

I recently realized that life in my 70s has a guiding question that could have come straight from Marie Kondo, the tidy-up guru, though I have never watched a single one of her TV shows or videos and my house still retains pockets of clutter.

In fact, I apply the question, “Does it bring you joy?”, more to my life as a whole than to my dwelling and possessions, though I make sporadic efforts to apply it there, too. I use it to tidy up my life, so to speak, to focus on the things I really want to do.

It has not been an easy question for me to answer. One reason that it guides me now is that my answers to it have evolved over the years and shown up in surprising ways that I would not have guessed in earlier times. Some examples:

With apologies to my children, I would have to say that when it comes to pure joy, being a grandmother even outdoes being a mother. Maybe because it is accompanied by far less baggage and responsibility, but I don’t think that’s all of it. There is something about realizing the fragility of life, the extraordinary privilege of holding in your arms its continuation as you see its end ahead of you, and the extraordinary privilege, too, of pouring love into little human beings.

Gardening. I have tried loving gardening over the years. I even took a Master Gardener course about 20 years ago. But I was never happy with my attempts to either grow food or create beautiful landscapes. I learned just how much patience I lacked to do everything right with compost and tilling, to move plants that weren’t working where I put them, etc. When I lived in the woods, with little area for planting, I learned that I was less interested in creating a beautiful landscape than in tending and perfecting it. I regularly weeded invasives out of the woods and found the greatest joy in watching the spring wildflowers bring forth the beauty I had not created. I loved reaping, so to speak, what I did not sow. I applied that knowledge about what brought me joy when we moved to this beautiful house on a big ugly lot in the city. I decided that what might really give me satisfaction would be to pay an artistic expert for a really great design and installation that I could then weed and pluck and watch flourish. At least, I think that is what I’m after. We’ll see. My garden around the Pink Lady is half installed; the rest will follow this spring. I watched the first shoots of daffodils poke up before this latest snow. Yes! Surprise me!


Son-in-law, grandson, husband finding their bliss several years ago in the woodland “garden.”

In similar ways I have learned to say no to many requests for involvement in my church and to say an enthusiastic yes to a few. I have pursued a strange, wandering career path—teaching; international adventures; editing, writing, and organizing for big important causes—that has culminated at long last in something that is truly a passion, and I am not even paid to do it.

Speaking of this last thing, my involvement in Congo and especially the adult literacy project, I have learned that, although “Does it bring you joy?” may seem like a luxurious question that only members of an affluent society can afford to ask, my observation of friends who suffer and struggle in a subsistence society is that that question is one of the great necessities of life, to which answers are found even in the midst of struggle.

I think there are more blog posts to come on this topic.

What brings you joy? Do you use that question to tidy up your life?

7 thoughts on “Does it bring you joy?

  1. I had this same insight this weekend at a Soul Purpose workshop. I need to Marie Kondo my life and “tidy up” the activities that are distracting me from my true soul purpose in life. as I refine it. I decided to ask the question “Does this bring me joy?” to each new opportunity. Your post today is the synchronicity that puts an exclamation point on that decision. Thanks Nancy!

  2. I am always torn between choosing things that bring me joy and feeling responsible to do some of the things that do not. This is especially true in church tasks, such as things that somebody has to do even if it is frustrating. I begin to feel a lingering guilt when I spend so much time at home doing just what brings me joy. Interesting!

    • I hear you. One way I work through those dilemmas–knowing we can’t always do what we want and somebody has to do the duty tasks–is to realize that I have to “pay dues” in the form of less-enjoyable tasks in order to do most of the things that bring me joy. The question is whether there a joyful outcome to be gained by paying a particular set of “dues”? But by all means, don’t feel guilty for the joy!

  3. Thank you for putting into beautiful words why being a grandmother (in my case a greataunt) brings so much joy. Also, when you mentioned your work in the adult literacy program, I had a flashback to a comment I, as a nine year old, wrote on the back of your 1955-56 school photo, “She’s good in her work at school and looks like a school teacher.” !! 🙂 Joy is in moving out beyond the walls of a school room.

    • Thank you Wanda. Trust you to find a comment on the back of an old school picture! Teaching in school is one of those things that I found didn’t bring me all that much joy. But I do love to empower others. So here I am, making it possible for others to learn how much they love teaching. Pretty indirect and strange but there you have it. I’ve been thinking about writing about the family FB group, so watch out!

  4. Pingback: Inspired by Marie | the practical mystic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s