The Joyletter

What I don't miss about living in the city (and what I do)

Published about 1 year ago • 4 min read

Hi Reader,

I used to think I would never leave the city. It’s a common attitude among New Yorkers, who seem to live and die by their status as natives. Even though I grew up just outside the city and my memories were threaded with trips to the Natural History Museum and Zabar’s and the playground outside my uncle’s place near NYU, I wasn’t a real New Yorker until I moved there in my late 20s.

Even then, people told me it took ten years before you could officially consider yourself a New Yorker.

By the time I'd attained that milestone, leaving seemed unfathomable.There’s no city quite like New York, and its extremes breed a kind of clinginess among its residents. Where else am I going to get a real bagel? How will I live without having three bodegas within walking distance of my apartment? What would I do if I couldn’t order Nepalese takeout at 2am?

New Yorkers like to tell themselves that other place could measure up. Other hometowns seem too slow, too calm, too complacent when compared with the city’s relentless pace and capacity for novelty.

And maybe I wouldn’t have left if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, and specifically the timing of the pandemic, when I was five months pregnant and already displaced by the renovation of our apartment, awash in change and facing an unknowable reality. In that storm of change, it felt strangely natural to be out of our regular surroundings. Everything was suddenly up for discussion — why not question where we lived too?

This week on the blog, I'm sharing my story of leaving the city for country life. I'm often asked about this big decision: whether I miss the city, if I have regrets. But the choice has been transformative for me — a portal to joy on so many levels.

Keep reading here

Also in this issue, a list of oddly satisfying joys, a Research Highlight for music-lovers, and One Thing to let loose your inner child.



One Thing

This week's One Thing is a question to help you get to know your inner child: What's a game, toy, or book that brought you tremendous joy as a kid? How has its influence shown up in your life?

One of my favorite books from childhood was Frederick, by Leo Lionni. It tells the story of a field mouse who doesn't help store up food for winter, but instead stores up sunshine and colors. The other mice are frustrated with what seems to be his laziness, but when the winter becomes especially harsh, they find they are warmed by his stories.

Maybe you can tell how this book showed up in my life? 😂 When I discovered it among the package of my childhood books my dad brought after Graham was born, I felt as if a puzzle piece clicked into place. What does your childhood joy say about you? How can you reconnect with it in your life today?

Find more questions like this here

In Search of: Oddly Specific Joys

One of my guiding principles — in writing and in joy — is specificity. Writing feels blah when it is general. (It's why chatGPT-authored blog posts so often feel like reading the back of a bottle of floor cleaner.) Writing gets good when there are specific details that help you see a scene clearly.

Similarly, joy described generally can often feel twee. The joy of a warm puppy. The joy of a bright sunny day. True but not really revelatory. So last week I asked our community on Instagram to share some "oddly specific joys." The resulting flood of responses was a joyful reminder that delight truly lies in the details.

  • When you sleep with windows open and it's cold in your room but warm under the covers
  • Catching the scent of other weekend routines in the air (laundry, breakfast) on a walk
  • The momentary silence that happens when you drive under a bridge during a rain storm
  • When I'm thinking something is pretty and my husband comments on how pretty it is
  • Coming home and seeing out of the corner of your eye a new flower blooming in the garden
  • When a boiled egg peels perfectly
  • When a song ends right as you arrive at your destination
  • When three carts of the same color are in a row
  • When a pencil gets too short to sharpen. They're so cute!
  • Eating cherry tomatoes directly off the plant
  • Having a flower or leaf fall on me, or in front of me, as if it did that just to say hi
  • Seeing names of people in my family (or mine) as street names / on street signs
  • Seeing a dog out a car window
  • When bus drivers wave to each other as their buses pass
  • On the beach when the wind shifts and you catch the smell of someone's suntan lotion
  • When it's starting to get dark and you can see inside people's homes, not to be nosey but because it's nice to know they are there. Lights on like little gold reminders.
  • Coming home after dark and seeing your family through the glowing windows
  • Sitting inside the car at the carwash.
  • After I water a plant and notice its leaves are just a tiny bit perkier than the day before
  • When I'm walking and the crossing turns green without me having to break my stride
  • When you get the perfect soak of very cold milk in your Oreo so it's juicy but doesn't collapse
  • When your head is under water and your hair swishes around you like a mermaid
  • Watching a very young child concentrate on a hard task
  • Vacuum carpet lines (and lawnmower lines)
  • When people's outfits unintentionally match their surroundings
  • The way my dress skirt flutters and billows out so big as I walk down the stairs (again! again!)

Find more oddly specific joys here

Research Highlight

Have you ever felt deeply moved by a piece of music, and wondered if others feel the same way? Researchers led by Vesa Putkinen at the University of Turku, Finland, have uncovered some intriguing insights into this question. Their studies involved almost 2,000 Western and Chinese participants and unearthed a remarkable commonality — despite cultural differences, we all seem to feel the same emotions when listening to a particular piece of music. This suggests that there may be universal emotional responses tied to specific musical cues, such as tempo and key clarity.

Even more fascinating: different types of music trigger sensations in distinct parts of our bodies. The research found that tender and sad songs often stirred feelings in the chest and head, while upbeat and danceable tunes sparked sensations across the body, especially in our limbs. These findings hint towards a profound, perhaps universal, human experience — music doesn't just evoke emotions, it elicits tangible physical sensations that mirror these emotions. If a piece of music moves you deeply, you're not alone.


Quote of the Week

"The point is that the pleasures of Spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing."

— George Orwell

The Joyletter

by Ingrid Fetell Lee

Designer, bestselling author, and founder of the School of Joy. I help people find more joy in life and work through design. Join more than 45,000 readers who receive our weekly treasure trove of science-backed tips, delightful discoveries, and inspiration for living a better life.

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