Nora Devin / Director of Photography. So buckle up, get back in your car, and go forward.

With the start of the holiday season beginning next week, students will be placed in the spotlight. Having to recall the joys and challenges of being at college during a pandemic. However, as we go back to the homes and begin to follow the rules of the roof we are under, protecting your happiness is more important than ever.

The stress of COVID-19 is quite literally still in the air and our spaces, the unknowns of the Spring semester linger while finishing up the Fall course load. When it comes to joy, people often find themselves searching for it. How can they get what they used to have, the yearning for a smile to last longer than the one you give under your mask while passing others in the market or hallway. The change in mindset is that you should not be searching for it, as it already exists, you need to cultivate the joy for yourself.

By definition, to cultivate means to, “try to acquire or develop,” while to search means to “try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly.” (

When trying to develop a joy for yourself, you need to do so with intention. Joy doesn’t mean only having happy emotions as well. Think of yourself on a long twisting road. You are aware that you are moving forward, but that you can turn around if need be, take a pit stop and see the scenic bypass or even speed up. There is so much you can do on this road trip as well. Sometimes you’ll want to sleep, maybe listen to some sad music, call a friend, etc. While on this trip you should also let yourself feel many things. Like sadness, and happiness, maybe frustration and anger, and most definitely joy.

Right now, as the entire country enters a third wave of spiking in COVID-19 cases, Maine is doing worse than back in March. USM has many students in isolation and people are limiting their time outside their homes.

Nora Devin / Director of Photography

In a New York Times article, “Stress Relief Tips to Relieve Election Anxiety” by Tara Parker-Pope. She quotes Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, ‘“We’ve had this unending momentum of a steady stream of stuff just going wrong since the beginning of March.”’ Something needs to give, people have to start being able to feel joy and happiness, and more than just sorrow and grief.

Although we have a burst of joy, such as the election or the past 65-degree days filled with sunshine, a lot of us are still grieving. Still navigating our friendships, pushing through our last few weeks of class, balancing homework and our jobs. The future is still unknown. We might go back into another lockdown or have an entire online semester. Still, too much time to know for certain, but just the fact that making plans for three months in advance seems so far fetched is strange.

Parker-Pope embodies this idea of having to make a change in the quote, “The groundlessness that people feel is not something the human body was meant to sustain over long periods of time.”

When a year ago, planning out your semester ahead of time would have been proactive and on schedule. As a whole, it is unfair to state, “If COVID-19 didn’t happen then blank would have” or “I would be blank” and even “I’d still be with blank.” COVID-19 isn’t this one event, it’s a project that everyone is dealing with. It is continually changing and we have to have checkpoints. How is everyone doing? What can I be doing? What’s next?

In a recent Vogue article, “How to Find Joy During times of Grief” by Marisa Renee Lee, she writes the “ability to experience joy during difficult times requires a degree of intentionality.” She explains that you need to find joy and fulfillment for yourself, this idea of cultivating rather than searching. The intention is the key to motivation. Lee continues to explain some ways of cultivating this joy, first with the “resilience list… identity what you need and then do those things regularly to protect yourself.” Writing a list of things you can do to bring you joy.

Such as going for a walk or doing a daily workout, maybe treating yourself to a coffee, or baking a new recipe weekly. This list of things you can physically look at, and when you feel yourself slipping, pick something to do. As Parker-Pope states in her article, “interrupt yourself so you can shift your state.”

In the New York Times “An ‘Awe Walk’ Might Do Wonders for Your Well-Being” by Gretchen Reynolds, she approaches the idea of a walk, in a way more than just doing a loop around the block. Rather how it can be a useful way to improve your mental health and boost joy. An awe walk is to be “consciously watching for small wonders in the world around you during an otherwise ordinary walk could amplify the mental health benefits of the stroll.” Like a child sees the world, by taking “a fresh look at the objects, moments, and vistas that surrounded them during brief weekly walks.” Being appreciative of your environment and being thankful for what you already have rather than pining for what you don’t. Reynolds ends her articles with, “awe is partly about focusing on the world outside of your head,”

Nora Devin / Director of Photography

With that Lee explains that you need to “be unapologetic about setting boundaries around the things you need right now.” Setting boundaries is the most important thing you can do to establish your alone time and uphold a level of responsibility to your joy. If you need to do something to relieve stress and feel good about yourself, you need to not feel guilty for doing so.

Lee then states the importance of having friends who will help you stay accountable for this process, “you need someone who will check in on you and your sanity and ensure you are doing the things that bring you joy, even on difficult days.” This also can tie with setting boundaries, communicating with those you live with, or those you have to stay in touch with during this pandemic about how you are feeling. It also helps with the motivation to continue to look for joy and the good in a time that is focusing on the bad and the evil.

On the topic of motivation, the New York Times published, “How to do School When Motivation Has Gone Missing” by Lisa Damour. Damour breaks down motivation into two types, “intrinsic motivation takes over when we have a deep and genuine interest in a task or topic and derive satisfaction from the work or learning itself. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, gets us to work by putting the outcome — like a paycheck or a good grade — in mind.”

When it comes to joy, lean more towards intrinsic motivation. We are working towards a happy and healthier self. Prioritize yourself more than you want to. Set a chunk of time to simply work on your mental stability. Assignments will get done, people can reschedule plans and we can take a day off from work.

Lastly, Lee writes about how “doing things for others has the power to bring us tremendous joy.” This can be a simple phone call to one of your grandparents or sending a letter in the mail. It can be buying coffee for a friend. Something to make someone else smile can be very fulfilling. As Parker-Pope adds emphasis on also being able to “accept the present moment, We prepare for life as it unfolds, not our ideal image of it. That is, literally, the only path forward.”

So buckle up, get back in your car, and go forward. Be in awe, create a list of joyful moments and activities, call your parents, send some flowers in the mail, and cultivate your joy, and protect your happiness.


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