Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Appreciating the fun-sized joys in life

By SARA KAUFMAN | April 23, 2024



Kaufman reflects on how she has come to appreciate small joys.

I stand at a whopping 5 feet. That means I’m on my tiptoes for about half of each day, I fit comfortably in coach airplane seats and I have managed to end up with a list of “‘things in friends’ apartments that are taller than I am.” As a short person, it only makes sense for me to surround myself with other physically small things. I work three days per week researching microscopic cells and miniaturized environments, I have spent way too much time this semester figuring out molecular bonding and I love volunteering with little kids. Needless to say, I live a pretty fun-sized life.

Even with these small joys, though, it’s easy for me to get consumed by large stressors. My phone pings every few minutes with a new tragic headline, and I’ve spent weeks feeling overwhelmed by current events. I get emails about graduate school applications, and each one reminds me of the hours I’ve passed redoing practice tests in hopes of doing well on exams I’ve already spent hours studying for. In a world with so much happening at once, it’s hard to center on the small moments that bring us joy. 

I’ve recently begun taking entire afternoons off to go outside. It started unintentionally, with a conference that happened to involve spending time outdoors. 

I was originally dreading being so far away from my homework for so long — homework I had felt myself starting to burn out over. If I don’t finish my physics problem sets on Sunday, will I have time to do them during the week? How long will I have to stay up on Monday night trying to get this week’s math worksheet in on time? How many weeks are there until the semester ends, again?

The stressors were gargantuan, but I stuck with the plans. Some friends and I walked our suitcases across the Freshman Quad and drove to the outskirts of Baltimore for the event. Prior to leaving, I had meticulously readjusted my schedule so I would be able to get away with not working for a day. While at the conference, I breathed — and not just metaphorically. “Self-guided meditation walks” and hikes through farm grounds were built into the programming, and they made for a wonderful change of pace from the city air. Taking hours out of each day to spend time in nature forced me to clear my mind of its everyday worries.

Upon returning to campus, though, I was greeted by a lengthy to-do list, a mammoth series of midterms and the stadium music that blasts outside my room at 7:30 a.m. each morning. It felt good to return to my usual schedule, but I couldn’t stop myself from yearning to break that routine again. I made plans to spend more time outside, blocking out afternoons to go hiking. Restructuring my schedule has been challenging, but the reprieves are well worth “making it work.”  

The happiness of these breaks has carried into my everyday routine. Even in the middle of a busy week, I’ve caught myself noticing the “fun-sized” delights throughout my day: A text from a friend right before class, a funny conversation over breakfast, a song I used to love but haven’t listened to in a while. This spring, I’ve also been taking note of seasonal joys, like a tree that just sprouted flowers and a baby bird bounding across a sidewalk. 

Taking the headspace to not only see but acknowledge these things has made it easier to focus on the happiness I get to experience each day, not just the anxiety of stressors I need to deal with — and being in that optimistic mindset makes all the difference. I return from the little adventures motivated; getting my work done has become more fun, and working toward my goals has become easier. 

I wasn’t expecting to learn from being in nature, a hobby I try to do so much anyway. But spending hours at a time outside — instead of trying to squeeze going outdoors into the minutes between classes. It has underscored the importance of taking breaks and given me a new reason to smile each day. It has affected my attitude toward classwork and rekindled my initiative as the semester ends. 

Ultimately, if we want to accomplish big dreams, we need to acknowledge life’s small wins and fun-sized joys. 

Sara Kaufman is a freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. majoring in Biomedical Engineering. Her column focuses on the experiences she’s had and lessons she’s learned outside the classroom. 

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