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Slices of joy: an extract from The Grief Handbook

Slices of joy

Expecting to feel happy at a time like this is a bit much to ask of yourself. Expecting to feel any of the good stuff, actually – excited, peaceful, delighted. However, I have found the idea of “slices of joy” very helpful.

It’s not my own idea (unfortunately) – I stole it from Google’s former happiness guru (I mean, of course I did). Chade-Meng Tan is the fellow, and he discovered that if you look for thin slices of joy – three-second bites – throughout the day, you start noticing them more, and your life becomes more joyful.

We’re not aiming for joy right now, of course. We’re aiming for a little less despair, a little less heartache, a little more breathing space. But the concept holds.

  • A glass of ice-cold water when you’re desperately thirsty is a slice of joy.
  • A hug from someone you love is a slice of joy.
  • Lying down at the end of a long day is a slice of joy.
  • Spotting a butterfly.
  • Watching the sun set.
  • Unexpectedly laughing at something.
  • Watching your favourite show on TV.
  • Eating something delicious.
  • Getting a message from someone you care about.
  • A solid gold meme.
  • A hot shower on a cold day.
  • That first sip of tea or coffee in the morning.

These are all tiny moments of joy, which is all we should be striving for at the moment.

Your particular slices of joy will be linked to the things you enjoy doing. For me, taking a sip of an ice-cold gin and elderflower as I make dinner is a slice of joy. Cuddling with my kids as I read to them is a slice of joy. Sinking my hands into my garden is a slice of joy.

One of the slices of joy I remember vividly is from the week that my mum was dying. A friend had come to our house bearing a box of doughnuts, and for some reason my niece (who was four at the time) decided that it was her stuffed elephant’s birthday. I’m not sure how she managed to get our attention amidst all the despair and admin, but she did, and we piled up the doughnuts into a birthday cake tower, found a candle and some matches, and paraded into the garden singing “Happy birthday” to Junior. Then the kids fell on the doughnuts in glee, and the adults headed back inside to attend to our mum dying. But for those few moments, we were all united in the ridiculousness of celebrating the birthday of a stuffed elephant, together.

You’ll be able to recognize slices of joy as they slip past you because you’ll feel okay for a few seconds. And that’s all we’re aiming for right now: okay for a few seconds. It can be helpful to write these moments of joy down because they can act as reminders on the bad days that there is actually hope and that you do sometimes feel a moment of happiness.

I should warn you that some days are just hard. Some days I just want to go to bed at 8pm and be done with the day – to press reset tomorrow and hope it’s a bit easier. There are days when the fog sets in and wraps me in a blanket that I don’t have the strength to wriggle out of. In the midst of days like these, it’s good to know that even if they can’t cut through the fog today, on other days there are slices of joy beckoning.

Just in case you feel that you don’t deserve to feel a moment of joy without your loved one here, let me disabuse you of that notion. Nobody who loves you wants you to be unhappy: here or in the what-comes-next. There is nothing to feel guilty about if you find yourself laughing in the days and weeks following your loved one’s death. Nothing to stop you enjoying a glass of wine or a hot bath or a TV show. Survival is not just made up of food and water and physical needs: it is also emotional, and you need to tend to your emotions as carefully as you would a newborn child.

Cultivate your slices of joy. Breathe in the sweet-smelling air. Spend a moment feeling thankful. (Only a moment, I promise.)

Download this extract and activity page from The Grief Handbook:

Published inInspiring

4 Comments

  1. Bonita Bonita

    Today I was gifted with a copy of The Grief Handbook. I was walking with my husband on the Sea Point Promenade and there it was. Left by The Book Fairies. Wow! For a moment I thought that he had planted it there! My mommy died 5 June 2021. I have not been able to express my grief. I need this book. I read the first chapter and started journalling at once. Thank you 💕

    • Oh my goodness, I am so happy to read this! Thank you Bonita… I’m so glad you got it. My kids and I left 10 copies around Cape Town today (https://www.instagram.com/msbridgetmcnulty/) and part of me wondered if they were all still there!
      I’m so sorry for your loss, and so pleased you’ve found a little comfort… Lots of love to you xxx

  2. Steve Mathew Steve Mathew

    Hi Bridget, I love the idea of these “slices of joy”. I do a similar thing, but never had a good name for it. I have now – thank you 🙂

    • Ah yay! Wish I’d come up with it myself 😉
      So lovely to be back in touch after all these years!

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