Joy feels like it’s been in short supply these past 18 months. What with a global health crisis, food shortages, and the whole world literally and metaphorically being on fire, now more than ever we could all do with a big dose of happiness.
Enter The Joy of Small Things by Hannah Jane Parkinson. Selected from her successful Guardian column of the same name, Parkinson’s book is a collection of short, insightful musings about the everyday, run-of-the-mill things that bring her pleasure. From pot plants and compliments to phone calls and, rather oddly, polling day, Parkinson writes about all these ‘small things’ in such a beautiful and warm way that the reader starts to take on that warm, fuzzy glow by osmosis.
I read most of this collection while I was in the bath, topping up the warm water every now and again and indulging in the full skincare routine I save for when I’m feeling particularly terrible about the state of the world (applying thick, buttery face masks would be close to the top of my own small things list). As I read about Parkinson’s predilection for watching dogs in parks, I hear my own dog, Pippa, thumping about on the landing and smile.
Parkinson writes: “The glorious and uplifting thing about dogs is that, unless they are sick or maltreated, or lonely, they are essentially always happy. Or at the very least, content; and these two things are often catching.”
I think that contentment is the crux of this collection. Too often we’re caught up in ‘Big Picture’ thinking. We believe that we’ll finally be happy when we get the job, the relationship, the car or the house. In skipping ahead to the future, we often miss out on the present and all the wonderfully monotonous and inconsequential things that bring us comfort and delight. Dogs would certainly be high on my list, alongside cooking elaborate veggie feasts, the colour of autumn leaves, Christmas, roasted marshmallows when the edges go all crisp and gooey, bubble baths, and charity shops.
The collection includes numerous noteworthy entries. The way Parkinson writes about clean bedding (“Fresh bedding: clean, taut sheets, plumped pillows, the crinkle of a rejuvenated duvet cover.”) makes me want to change my own bedding and snuggle underneath sheets fresh from the tumble dryer. And I’ve never related more to a line in a book than “cover versions are like white wines: they’re either very good or horrid”.
Other standout columns include one about pockets (“Pockets are a feminist issue. They are a class issue.”), a Sunday roast (“Of course, as with the best meal, the joy of a Sunday roast isn’t merely about what is on one’s plate. It’s the act of gathering, and the company one shares.”), and the sheer pleasure of cancelled plans (“This is where, if luck is on your side, a truly glorious reprieve is granted: the thing you do not want to do is cancelled. It is the social life equivalent of gearing up to dump a partner only for them to get in first.”).
The idea is that focusing on small pleasures has a cumulative effect. Whether it’s Parkinson’s intention or not, The Joy of Small Things could surely be considered a credo to live by.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
The Joy of Small Things by Hannah Jane Parkinson is published by Guardian Faber Publishing.