How to Find — and Spread — Joy

Even during the pandemic.

“Joy” may not be the first word that comes to mind in the middle of a pandemic, but people across North America are looking for ways to find — and share — it. Here, suggestions from Times readers, on how they are brightening the days of friends and family with gestures large and small.

“I made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for Election Day and delivered them to friends. I so enjoyed seeing my friends and hearing their voices ‘in person’ (socially distanced and masked, of course). Happiness for my friends and also for me.”

Erica Ginsburg, Philadelphia

“I live alone in Telluride, Colo., a mountain town know for healthy, high altitude outdoor living. During the pandemic, I have taken to delivering pots of homemade yogurt and fruit crumbles to friends. I make the yogurt in small Mason jars. Friends return the empty jars to me, sometimes with a few nuts or pieces of dried fruits (great for snacks while skiing and snowshoeing). I then drop another few jars of yogurt on their porch, sometimes with an individual portion of a fruit cobbler or crumble. Our cold temps mean we don’t worry about refrigeration. A friend who raises honey bees here generously shares honey, which is perfect for topping the plain yogurt, for those who like it sweet (I prefer the tart flavor, and even add lemon zest to my own).”

Kyle Koehler, Telluride, Colo.

“Each year, I test my old lady legs with a handful of 5K races. Nearly every race benefits a cause. This summer, looking to scratch that itch, I almost signed up for a virtual race. But while the cause was certainly worthy, I wanted a more personal experience. So, I created Kristy’s K’s, my own charitable race series. Once or twice a month, I push myself on a timed run, dedicate that run to someone special in my life, and make a donation in that person’s honor. I send them a certificate, complete with a sweaty finish-line selfie. To date, I have donated to my nephew’s kindergarten classroom, an art museum in Kansas City, the Ohio Ornithological Society, an adoption foundation, a nonprofit that supports neighborhood public schools, and a fund-raiser to equip high school science students with molecular model kits and digital pocket scales for at-home learning.”

Kristy Zurbrick, Dublin, Ohio

“A dear friend recently was given a major medical diagnosis. She’s not ready yet for talking or socially distant visits. Instead I text her daily photos of my cat, who she’s affectionately dubbed the Pinkness. #dailypinkness.”

— Kim Burnett, Denver

“I spread joy through notes and gifts. After my downstairs neighbor gave us Parmesan cheese when we had none and needed some, I replaced it and included a six-pack of Narragansett. I put Post-its on five of the beers saying “Thank/you/for/being/a totally great, considerate, awesome” and then circled ‘neighbor’ on the sixth beer.”

Pamela Roy, New Haven, Conn.

“Every Monday morning I send a postcard to my three elderly aunties. They live far away and because of Covid cannot have visitors, and calling on the phone is cumbersome because of hearing and other health issues. So, at the start of Covid I started a ritual of writing to them and putting cards in the mail every Monday morning. I haven’t missed a week yet! And, of course, it makes me feel good, they enjoy the anticipation of mail and it gives me time each week to reflect on the world, from large stage (politics, weather events, movies to watch) to small world (critters in the yard, walks taken, dreams had, memories shared).”

Laurie Zyons Wood, Manitou Springs, Colo.

“I don’t go into work every day but have to go in about once every two weeks. Along the way I stop for an egg sandwich at a drive-through. I always pay for the tab of the car behind me, no matter the price. Makes me smile and I hope is a good start to their day too!”

Mary Bell, Portland, Ore.

“This past weekend, I enlisted my daughter-in-law Gayle’s help to make a Ukrainian food takeout menu for 20 family and friends. I made pierogies, of course — two kinds: sauerkraut and bacon and mashed potato and Cheddar cheese — holopchi (cabbage rolls), Ukrainian sausage and crepes (nalysnyky) with cottage and ricotta cheeses. Of course, we topped the pierogies with bacon bits and sautéed onion and ate them with sour cream. The recipes are from the cookbook ‘The Prairie Table’ by Karlynn Johnston. My daughter-in-law made a salad of cooked chopped beets, carrots, sweet onion and dill pickle with a dressing of vegetable oil and vinegar with some dill pickle juice. And, for dessert, she made a delicious sheet cake. We packaged all of this in takeout containers, kept the hot food warm in the oven and enjoyed short visits with our family and friends who came for takeout on a cool Sunday afternoon.”

Lucelle Prindle, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

“I have been sending postcards to family, friends and acquaintances who (pre-pandemic) I would regularly see in social circles. “Greetings from Bellevue!” or “Aren’t you happy this isn’t just another election mailing?!” Hoping to catch recipients by surprise and let them know that I miss them and they cross my mind.”

Bethany Beal, Pittsburgh

“We have a group of neighbors who meet once a week for happy hour. Since Covid we’ve changed our restaurant happy hours to new digs in town — our garages. We clear out the cars, put our indoor/outdoor carpets on the garage floor, toss in a folding table with a pretty linen tablecloth for appetizers, place 20 candles, fairy lights and a lit Christmas tree in for light and then open the garage doors for fresh (and often cooler these days) air. Even though we wear ski jackets and blankets to stay warm in Kohler, we socially distance by about 10 feet and enjoy an hour or two of beautiful togetherness.”

Beverly Davidson, Kohler, Wis.

“My mother-in-law couldn’t come for Christmas as planned, which is hard given it’s only her second one alone. She’s in Maine and the risk is too great. So, we mailed her an Advent calendar of sorts. It started on Dec. 1, when she could open the box, and then every day leading to Christmas it contains a new goody to unwrap. Cheese straws made in my home state, North Carolina, tropical-scented lotion to remind her of those sunny beaches she loves, handmade crafts from the kids and the finale on Christmas Day will be the annual photo calendar I make with all the shots of her kids and grandkids she hasn’t seen from the year! We even included a bag of treats for her cat Virgil, so he could be in on the fun. We’re really sad she can’t be with us, but this gives us joy; and we hope it’ll bring her some too.”

Laura Browning, Raleigh, N.C.

“I live in Portland, Ore., and I regularly make mandalas in the woods near my house, using flower petals, leaves, mushrooms and other found natural objects. Many delighted passers-by have told me that the highlight of their day is coming across a creation by the “mandala fairy” on their walks. It makes me happy to be able to contribute a bit of uplift in these challenging times.”

Donna Zerner, Portland, Ore.

“I have gotten great satisfaction lately out of harvesting and sharing seeds from my fennel plants. I have three large ones next to my patio — they are bronze fennel — which I planted to attract swallowtail butterflies. This summer I had a ton of gorgeous caterpillars on them, and many butterflies and bees so they were a pollinator favorite, which of course, means many seeds. I’ve shared them on a seed exchange here in my town, mailed them to friends around the state, in Philly and in New York, and am prepping a batch to send to a friend in Italy. Fun part — they can be saved to plant next spring, or used for cooking. As a thank you from one friend, I received a fabulous recipe for a coriander/fennel seed digestive that is apparently common in Indian culture.”

Laura Marchese, Montclair, N.J.

“I was cleaning out my garage when I came across a carton containing high school memorabilia. Among the awards and notebooks, were 5-by-7-inch senior photos of my best friends with long inscriptions to me about our friendship and about the fun times we shared together during our four years in school. I sent the photos off to each one of them, and was happy to receive texts back saying what a laugh they had looking at themselves at 18, and reading their heartfelt comments. We are all now 75, and have been reconnected through the extra time Covid has given us.”

Maureen Fitzgerald Bennani, Lexington, Mass.

“I have been both finding and spreading joy by feeding and otherwise looking after a small group of cats that lives at a community garden where I rent a raised bed. These guys are blissfully unaware of the mess humans have made of the world. They are unerringly cheerful. Each day when I arrive at the garden, the cats come bounding toward me with excited meows and raised tails. They rub around my legs as I’m preparing their food bowls. I haven’t been working at a job since the beginning of the pandemic, so I consider this outing to the garden my new daily commute. Taking care of these cats gets me out of the house and out of my own head.”

Diana Parker, Phoenix, Ariz.

“I took up painting while in quarantine. To keep me motivated to paint, and to bring joy to others, I sent a group of friends each a picture frame in the mail. Every month, or when the season changes, I send them a new painting that relates to the changes. It keeps me motivated and brings joy to my friends as they swap out the new painting each month.”

Kaitlyn Hall, Munster, Ind.

“I’ve been thinking about the holidays a lot this year, since I’m not flying home to my mom’s. To make up for it and as a way to really spread some joy over a couple of months’ time, I sent my mom a kit for an amaryllis, an indoor flower that grows in the fall and starts blooming in winter. I sent one in October and we’ve been watching it grow and bloom together long distance. I got one too so we could kind of do it together. Mine, I’m calling it the inauguration bloom since it seems to be taking a little while.”

Nicole Lanzotti, Oakland, Calif.

“We have a lot of children on our street here in Winston-Salem, N.C. When the weather was warmer, I went to the front porch and played the accordion for the children who were riding their bikes or in a stroller at the same time every day, Monday to Friday. Children’s Happy Hour at 4 p.m. In colder weather, I leave little surprises — a flowering pansy, a special rock or a little card every day under the mailbox. This becomes a destination for the end of their daily walk. The parents appreciate this. And it brings me great joy too.”

Linda McKinnish Bridges, Winston-Salem, N.C.

These entries have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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