57 Oddly Specific Joys to Remind You That Delight is in the Details

By Ingrid Fetell Lee
oddly specific joys | A clothesline hanging against an orange-toned building.

A few months ago I saw a post about how one of Nora Ephon’s favorite things was when she and a friend met for dinner in a city neither of them lived in. It was such an oddly specific joy that it caught my attention.

Joy can often seem twee when described in general terms. The joy of a warm puppy. The joy of a bright sunny day. Blah blah. Our eyes gloss over these sentences, maybe even rolling in the process. Tell me something I don’t know.

The Power of Oddly Specific Joys

Specificity sharpens the knife. Specific details allow us to get a clear mental picture. So, the joy of a corgi in yellow galoshes is much brisker than “a warm puppy.” I can see it, feel it. I’m almost there.

Another example of specificity heightening joy comes from Chip and Dan Heath in their book The Power of Moments. They write about a resort that has a popsicle hotline. There’s a phone by the pool, and if you pick it up, the servers will bring you a popsicle.

The Heaths point out that this kind of thing is remarkable because it nearly always gets watered down in development. Some executive says, “What if I don’t want a popsicle? What if I want a piece of cake?” So it becomes a dessert hotline. And then another exec says, “What if I don’t eat dessert? Why can’t it just be to order whatever you want?” So it becomes a room service phone, and it is utterly unremarkable. More convenient, more useful, sure. But all the delight has been sucked out of it.

How to Use Specificity to Find More Joy

We can keep our sense of joy sharp by honing our eye for specific details. Noticing these details keeps us present, attunes our senses to what’s happening in the moment. Pay attention to the sounds, textures, and scents when you feel joy. Look out for what is weird or unusual.

To help us get inspired, I asked our community on Instagram to share examples of “oddly specific joys.” I thought this would be difficult, but the flood of responses tells me that there’s a lot of awareness to the presence of joy in precise yet fleeting moments. Reading this list reminded me that big joys often come in tiny packages, if we’re aware enough to notice them.

57 Oddly Specific Joys

  • 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 cars 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 exact second when a plane enters the clouds, when it looks like a giant whipped cream field
  • The way my dress skirt flutters and billows out so big as I walk down the stairs (again! again!)
  • Stepping on a frozen puddle and crunching through the thin layer of ice
  • Tapping the sugary top of a crème brûlée until it cracks
  • When you walk past a stranger that smells like someone you love deeply, instantly flooding you with their memory
  • Finishing a book in bed right when I’m so tired I want to fall asleep
  • When you go to a bakery and get an item and it’s unexpectedly warm since it’s fresh from the oven
  • When it’s trash day and you manage to get every single piece of recycling and trash out of the house in time
  • When you’re on an airplane and someone starts a movie as soon as they sit down and it ends as soon as you land
  • When you match your leftovers to the right-sized tupperware on the first try!
  • The sound curtains make when the windows or doors are open and they whip in the wind
  • The crunchy sound onions make when you cut them
  • Lying down in your own bed after traveling. Especially pulling up the covers.
  • When two cars swap lanes at the exact same time — synchronized driving
  • That scene from Amelie where you stick your hand in a container of seeds / beans / beads, small things
  • When an older woman cashier calls me “hun” — I love it
  • When the guy at the Christmas tree lot bonks the tree on the ground to fluff the branches
  • The smell of a used bookstore
  • The sound of a kid baseball game carrying over the night air — the crack of the bat, cheers, and laughter
  • Seeing beautifully hung washing on a clothesline — always looks like a festive garland. Even better when there are tiny baby clothes.
  • Finding something in your pocket after not wearing that thing since last year
  • Catching the moment when the time is all one number down to the second (i.e. 5:55:55)
  • The tiny, perfect bubbles that dish soap bottles occasionally blow
  • When the rain starts and you can hear it hit the trees a couple seconds before feeling it
  • Emptying the dishwasher with someone in silence
  • Opening a tube of tomato purée by piercing it with the lid upside down
  • The little chirp/meow my cat makes when he lands from jumping
  • Bumping into random strangers who smile big
  • Walking my dog so we leave when it’s still dark but light by the time we get home
  • When the ice cream you’re scooping comes out in a perfect smooth globe
  • The sound of gravel crunching under the tires of a car I’ve been waiting for
  • When you bend down to talk to a tiny kid and they bend down too!

Let’s keep this collection going! What are your oddly specific joys?

Image: Fernando Meloni via Unsplash

May 19th, 2023


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    Discussion (13 Comments)

  1. Anneke on May 19, 2023

    When a haphazard pile of things makes a gorgeous color combination; When sunlight hits the discoball in my room and creates flecks of light on my walls, floor and ceiling; Receiving and opening a box with many unknown, exciting chocolate bars I ordered.

  2. Kay Hallett on May 20, 2023

    When my wild pheasant comes running up to me for his breakfast, and sometime bringing his shy girlfriend.

    1. Ingrid Fetell Lee on May 21, 2023

      Love that you have a pheasant and he has a girlfriend, and that you know her well enough to know she is shy!

  3. Alyse on May 20, 2023

    The first tip of a stem breaking the soil barrier in the spring; Drips Drops of rain on patio furniture that sound like tin; pulling up the egg out of the dye when coloring easter eggs to see what color and shade is really turned out to be and seeing if the crayon wax held up on the image you made, now visible; when my son makes my daughter belly laugh; When I sleep on wet hair and I wake up to a lovely dried hair pattern; when wildlife like moose, bears, foxes and coyotes come into my yard; when I see the same hawk circling the same place over a few days in a row; when an osprey or eagle glides by in the air holding a fish; when my child sings a song I have not taught them, making it evident that someone else has taken the time to do so; the crisp pop of a beverage in an aluminum can opening.

    1. Ingrid Fetell Lee on May 21, 2023

      Love the osprey one. How they hold the fish in their claws instead of their beak. And that one about someone teaching your kid a song. 😍

  4. Samantha on May 21, 2023

    The brip my cat makes in greeting when I walk in to a room he’s in, the way the summer sun briefly shine through my living room window and lights up my favourite arm chsir and bookshelf, the birds on my window bird feeder, the first time I get to see my finished pottery after it has been painted and fired, the first bite of home cooked food when you’re really really hungry, the side eye my sibling gives me when they get the giggles about something.

    1. Ingrid Fetell Lee on May 21, 2023

      Love these. You just reminded me about the joy of having a very ordinary food made for you by someone who cares for you – how even a basic ham sandwich tastes better than if you made it yourself.

  5. Daley on May 25, 2023

    When I close the blinds and turn off the lights for night, the feeling of tucking in the house; the refreshing way my skin tingles after washing my face with very cold water; the serenity of being tucked in for the night, listening to the dishwasher or dryer running; treating the library like blockbusters, going with my partner and picking out an unknown movie to try while roaming the aisles; baking only a couple cookies at a time so they’re always warm and fresh; turning on the lava lamp and checking in on it after a while when the wax has heated and it’s doing its dance.

  6. Leah Kruger on May 27, 2023

    I love this whole concept so much! You can’t help but smile as you read them 🙂

    My list:
    – When my son falls asleep beside me and flops his soft little hand perfectly onto my cheek 
    – When I wake up one minute before my alarm clock 
    – Opening a new bag of coffee beans and leaning in for a full-face inhale of that delicious smell 
    – The moment when you’re on a sailboat and you get the sails set and kill the engine and are just surrounded by an intensely perfect silence that is not at all silent 
    – Waiting for my husband at the airport and that moment when you finally make eye contact and feel that moment of shy anticipation and excitement come rushing back over you 
    – Coming across an old photograph of a moment you’d forgotten about and being taken right back to that time and place 

  7. Emie on May 27, 2023

    Seeing the eagle on it’s nest feeding it’s youngins’ from my front yard.

  8. Buffy on May 27, 2023

    Unexpected rainbows when my engagement ring makes a prism, waking up & realizing that the rest of the family is up but they let you sleep in (bliss!), seeing crocuses peek up through the snow, when a mug or cup just fits your hand so perfectly you want to use it all the time (bonus if it’s really pretty), hearing your favorite song blasting out of a random car passing by, unexpected hugs from my grownup kids, the smell of rain, soft socks, that first sip of tea when the temperature is not too hot or cold it’s just *perfect*, when the pen you really like just glides across the paper, sharing a favorite movie/song/book with a friend and finding out it’s one of their favorites too, that little “pop” when I’m stitching and the needle goes through the fabric, taking a big project off the frame and seeing the whole thing finally and it looks just like you hoped it would, all my floss and thread in their boxes – delightful little squares of color, one of the neighbor dogs coming up for a pat, watching a bunny hop around my yard, sitting out on the patio at night just enjoying the moon and the stars, when a snowflake lands on you and for a second you can see its shape perfectly before it melts, old voicemails of my kids’ little kid voices instantly transporting me back in time, the smell of lilacs or hyacinths (or any really fragrant flower really)

  9. Karen on May 29, 2023

    Perfectly packing a car with what looks to be an impossible amount of stuff. The jolt of delight when you hear the first notes of the Ice Cream Truck and the way you follow the sound as it drives through the neighborhood, getting closer. Putting a sweatshirt on after a day at the beach (even better if it’s new and soft inside).

  10. Patricia Odean on June 9, 2023

    Coming across place names that are fun to say: Abu Dubai, Mogadishu, Mazeppa. 


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