Get Outside the Little Cave of Your Brain

Ten Percent Happier
September 22, 2023
A child jumps into a swimming pool, two hands hold a sandwich, and a person jumps off a dock - all getting outside their comfort zones.

Editor's Note: Poet and author Ross Gay was a recent guest on the Ten Percent Happier podcast, and spoke with Dan about the power of joy, delight, and connection. Gay recently released a new collection of essays, The Book of (More) Delights. This was a continuation of a project that began when he decided to spend a year writing out moments of delight throughout the day. He explains the difference between delight and joy:

“I think delight is occasional. Delight is the hummingbird buzzing by your ear. Whoa!  That's delight. …Joy is something that is always present, and it's available to us, and you kind of enter it, or it finds you. But it doesn't feel like it requires an occasion… I think of joy as our fundamental connection.”

He goes on to describe how delight can be contagious and provide opportunities for connection.

“This sort of contagion of moods is a real thing—our own moods and other people's moods... I'm not just delighted inside of the little cave of my brain. I'm delighted because I'm observing things outside of the little cave of my brain. And often those things are like these instances of sweetness. It's the witnessing of a kind of sweetness outside of myself…People are so inclined after they hear about this, they're like, ‘After I read your book, I did that for a little bit.… I talk to my kid and I ask what's delighting them.’ And it is my experience that when people are like, ‘yo, this is what I love’, that I'm inclined to be like, ‘oh yeah, what do I love?’.”

Another key element and outcome of this practice has been strengthening a sense of curiosity. Gay shared a conversation he had with Sharon Salzberg:

“I was talking with Sharon Salzberg a few days ago, and she said something along the lines of, ‘Despair is the result of knowing everything.’ But curiosity, wondering about how it's going to go, is something else... Not knowing how it's going to go might provoke all kinds of feelings. But when I feel curiosity, it invites a sense of, ‘okay, well, I guess I should check. I guess I should see.’ In the smallest way, we can all relate to this in our relationships. If I just know how a conversation is going to go, why am I going to have it? As opposed to being like, ‘well, I wonder how it's going to go. I guess I better fess up to the fact that I don't actually know everything about this other person.”

This curiosity and connection can also help us be with the inevitable pain of change, together. Gay says: 

One of the ways that I think of joy is something that isn't separate from or an alternative to sorrow, but it's something that actually emerges from sorrow. Joy doesn't actually exist absent of sorrow. And one of the expressions of joy is the way that we help each other, how we carry each other through our sorrows. It's a kind of ground that things change—everything we love is going to be gone. Joy is as likely to make you weep as it is to make you dance—neither of which are more or less evidence of joy. But it does feel like joy comes from both, or joy might make you want to do both.

Check out the full interview in the app or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

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