Amanda Gorman

If We're Brave Enough To Be It

January 22, 2021

I was in my car Wednesday when on the radio I heard the voice of 2017 Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman reading her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Her passionate reading thrilled me and brought tears to my eyes. Apparently she touched and inspired many people that day, as I’ve come across many quotes and memes on social media sharing her words. For me, the last few lines were the most meaningful:

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Click here if you’d like to read her poem in full. Or click below to see her recite it. 

May we all be brave enough to be the light.




Autumn Poses a Question

October 11, 2019

“We cherish things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last; it’s their frailty that adds sweetness…. Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.”

Alexandra Stoddard

Reach for the Light

July 05, 2019

“To achieve high levels of happiness, reach for brightness in your daily life. Light and dark are integral to the natural cycle of life. We can accept darkness as we point toward the light. Become conscious of all your varied options for increasing cheerfulness of your immediate surroundings. We know firsthand that the sun does not perpetually shine down on us. Not only do we face darkness every evening but there are also many overcast, dark, and stormy days. It is up to us to bring light into our lives.”
—Alexandra Stoddard, Choosing Happiness


Is There Better Than Here?

November 15, 2017

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“So often we imagine that There is more full of gold than Here. It is the same with love and dreams and the work of our lives. We see the light everywhere but where we are, and chase after what we think we lack, only to find, humbly, it was with us all along.”
—Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Essential Oils

Change Your Environment, Change Your Emotions—Three Simple Ways to Support Positive Moods

September 01, 2017

Acoustic guitar music plays low in the background. The ceiling fan spins, the coffee is hot, the paper and pen just right…on a good day, this is how I set the mood when I write. My office walls are painted a certain color, the window blinds are always open during the day, there are shelves filled with books, a glider rocker. I’ve done everything in my power to make this room a happy place.

To energize, calm, inspire, comfort—whatever the emotion we want to feel, there likely is a way to nudge ourselves in that direction by manipulating our surroundings. Whether it’s the music we listen to or the motivational quotes we tack up on our refrigerator, we create the atmosphere in which our moods grow. As Sam Gosling, author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, wrote, “Much of the stuff we gather about us and the environments we create are there not to send messages about our identities but specifically to manage our emotions and thoughts.” 

Here are three simple environmental factors that can boost—or lower—your mood:


I don’t aspire to Marie Kondo levels of organization, but it does make me feel lighter and happier when I look around at tidy surroundings. I like knowing that if I open the hall closet door, nothing will fall on my head. I’m in an ongoing battle with paper in my office, and books everywhere else, but I make an effort to keep my kitchen cleaned up and I make the bed most days because it makes me happy to see it like that.

I’m also prone to taking on a cleaning or organizing project when I’m frustrated or blocked in my creative pursuits. Some would say I’m avoiding my work, but I choose to think of it as a way to distract the inner critic long enough to sneak some ideas by her. Making progress in one area (a cleaned out hall closet) often leads to progress in another (a completed blog post). 

(Just don’t look in my office right now—eesh!)


The presence or lack of light, especially natural light, makes a huge difference to me. If we have a run of a few days with no sunshine, I feel my mood lowering just like the clouds. Light is essential to the human body, helping to regulate hormones that affect mood and sleep. You’ll almost always find “step outside” on lists of ways to feel happier, and getting some natural light is one of the reasons that’s so effective.  


Essential Oils are Having a Moment. Everywhere you turn, they’re touted as the cure for some malady. So far, my main use for them has been scent. I diffuse oils in the bedroom, kitchen, and my car. I like when things smell good! It’s a bonus when those scents have beneficial effects on my mood, which some research suggests that they do.

According to Christopher Alexander in The Timeless Way of Building: “There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work…that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself…The fact it, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.” To be truly happy, we still need to do the inner work, but we can support that work with simple pleasures that make our surroundings more to our taste. So if you find yourself battling sadness, fear, anxiety, stress or other negatively-charged emotions (and who doesn’t?), take a look at your surroundings. Maybe there’s something you can change that will help you feel better.

What is your favorite way to influence your mood by manipulating your environment? Please share in the comments!

Kay Ryan

A Pin Hole of Light

July 26, 2017

Photo courtesy Ezgi Platin

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Kay Ryan was our nation’s Poet Laureate at The Library of Congress for the 2008-2010 terms. Her poetry is celebrated for its compression; she can get a great deal into a few words. Here’s an example of a poem swift and accurate as a dart.


We say
A pin hole
of light. We
can’t imagine
how bright
more of it
could be,
the way
this much
defeats night.
It almost
isn’t fair,
poked this,
with such
a small act
to vanquish

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Kay Ryan, whose most recent book of poems is Odd Blocks, Selected and New Poems, Carcanet Press, 2011. Poem reprinted from Poetry, October 2011, by permission of Kay Ryan and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


How the Light Gets In

May 24, 2017

“Perfectionism is our denial of two very basic truths of existence: we are not perfect; and we are not, ultimately, in control. When we absorb the law of perfection, we are infected with the virus of self-doubt, which eats away at every area of our lives. The more perfect we are, we believe, the more valid we are as people. But with every advance in one area, we find ourselves wanting in another. We worry that we are not good enough, and, therefore, on some level that we do not deserve love, happiness, or maybe even life itself.

“We fear our imperfections will expose us as failures when actually they show the places we have grown, the markers of our realizations, our unique situation in the sands of time and cycles of nature. In the words of Leonard Cohen, ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’”
—Lucy H. Pearce, “Overcoming Perfectionism in a Culture That Promotes It,” Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself, ed. by Lori Deschene


Only Love Can Do That

February 15, 2017

Photo courtesy Joshua Hibbert

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Jonathan Greene

One Light to Another

August 27, 2014

Photo courtesy Vyolett
Introduction by Ted Kooser: Jonathan Greene, who lives in Kentucky, is a master of the short poem, but while he prunes them down to their essentials he never cuts out the wonder and delight. Here’s a good example from his most recent book. Can you feel the exclamation point that’s suggested at the end? You can’t see it, but it’s there.

One Light to Another

The storm
turns off
the lights.

The lightning
lights the whereabouts
of the flashlight.

The flashlight
takes us to matches
and candles, the oil lamp.

Now we’re back,
the 19th century.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Jonathan Greene, from his most recent book of poems, Seeking Light: New & Selected Later Poems, Broadstone Books, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jonathan Greene and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The  introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Darkness and Light

January 30, 2013

“Help us be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers.”
—May Sarton


Light From Within

September 12, 2012

Photo courtesy Adam Jackson
“People are like stained glass windows, the true beauty can be seen only when there is light from within. The darker the night, the brighter the windows.”
—Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


The Value of Mystery

February 15, 2012

A wise friend told me that since the Age of Reason we’ve felt we had to explain everything, and that as a result we’ve forgotten the value of mystery. Here’s a poem by Lisel Mueller that celebrates mystery. Mueller is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet from Illinois. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.] 

Sometimes, When the Light 

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©1980 by Lisel Mueller, from her most recent book of poems, Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1996. Poem reprinted by permission of Lisel Mueller and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Contemplation Month

January 06, 2012

I intended to make December a month of both reflection and looking forward: reflection on the experiences and lessons of 2011 and the effects of my word of the year (light), as well as contemplation of the coming year and its new word.

What was I thinking?

In reality, for me, December is possibly the worst month for reflection, filled as it is with holiday doings and extra activity of all sorts. I believe I managed exactly one evening of quiet contemplation, and I went to bed following that feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Not exactly what I’d had in mind.

Remember this for future years: Save the contemplation for after the holidays, when the kid is back in school, the husband is back at work and the house isn’t wall-to-wall chaos, It’s too overwhelming otherwise, and I just frustrate myself. January will have to become Contemplation Month.

I have to admit that with a few notable exceptions, 2011 was a rough year. (I’m not the only one who feels this way about 2011, but I think Jen Lancaster put it best when she wrote “2011 Blew Goats”—I’d have to agree.)

And yet.

Here I sit, in my comfortable home, with my intact family, plenty to eat, clothes on my back and leisure time I don’t have to spend struggling for survival. I should be—and I am—grateful. But I don’t want to be just grateful that I avoided the worst of disasters. I want to be joyful, hopeful. I can’t say I’ve felt all that joyful recently. It’s been a struggle to remain positive—light, if you will—in the face of repeated distressing situations. No, I haven’t had a major tragedy occur, knock on wood, but I have had a string of minor challenges/accidents/stressful situations to cope with for most of 2011 and I’m feeling a bit emotionally ragged. As someone once said, “What I am looking for is a blessing that is not in disguise.”

I will say that my word of the year did help me hold on, to look for the bright side, to search for the silver lining in the storm clouds. I needed light as a word of the year in 2011.

I haven’t chosen a word for 2012 yet, though that’s high on my agenda. You’d better believe I’ll take care when I do!

What were some of the high and low points of 2011 for you? If you chose a word of the year, did it “help”?

My word of the year is treats...or maybe nap...


What Is This Feeling?

October 10, 2011

Something strange happened this morning. I was driving to pick up my mother-in-law after she dropped off the rental car she needed following an accident that totaled her vehicle but left her with only some sore muscles, when I suddenly felt…happy. I felt the dark mood of worry and anxiety that has so often hovered over me this year—this year that was supposed to be all about “light”—lift off my shoulders.

My word of the year—light—has been anything but. If I wished and hoped it would bring me a lessening of problems and concerns, I was wrong. This year my family has had broken bones and family explosions and sick animals and car accidents. I’ve watched and mourned for those afflicted by natural disasters, and worried over the state of the economy, the nation and the world. And you know what? We’re still here. We still have each other, enough to eat, a comfortable home. We’ve coped just fine with everything 2011 has thrown at us, not because of my worry and anxiety, but despite it. Worry and anxiety have done nothing for me except steal the joy from the present moment.

Perhaps I chose “light” (it chose me?) so that I could begin to learn the lesson of letting go—letting go of what I can’t change or affect, letting go of worry, letting go of the future and concentrating on the now. No, not just concentrating on—rejoicing in.

For just a few moments this morning, I realized If I were to stop worrying about the future, I would be happy. I would feel a lot more light. And for a few moments, I actually felt that way.

Life is good
What have been 2011’s lessons for you?


Looking for the Light (Word-of-the-Year Update)

March 28, 2011

This is my second year to choose a “word of the year” to guide me, and I wanted to stay more in touch with my word than I did last year, when I pretty much let “open” recede into the background. To do that, I’m keeping some brief notes, and performing a quarterly evaluation of how things are going. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The concept of light can be applied to many areas of my life—my home, health, relationships and attitudes. Each of these areas could use a little “light therapy.” In my home, I’m lightening up by getting rid of excess possessions—pretty obvious, and an ongoing process as I fight my pack-rat-ish tendencies. In addition to getting rid of stuff, I’m incorporating things that bring light to my life, like the simple act of opening all the blinds in my bedroom each day because it lifts my spirits to see the room flooded with light when I walk by.

I’m working to eat lighter (another ongoing project) in hopes that I’ll eventually be lighter; I’m striving for a light touch with family and friends by doing more listening and encouraging and less advising and correcting.

And most important of all, when it comes to my attitudes, choosing light as my word of the year has reminded me to look for the bright side, to focus on the good I find in daily life. When two or more courses of action present themselves, I choose the one that feels “light.” When I feel myself spiraling down into melancholy, I remind myself to look for the light. I think that’s my take-away lesson of the first three months of 2011: Look for the light.

Do you have a word of the year? How is it working for you so far and what have you learned?

Earthquake in Japan

Letting in the Light

March 14, 2011

There is a crack in everything;
That's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the aftermath thereof is a sobering reminder of how fragile our human lives are, how little “control” we really have. The quake shifted the Earth’s axis, a shift that will affect the seasons and the length of the day, shortening it by an estimated 1.8 microseconds. (You can read more about this here.)  Scientists believe the changes will be subtle and won’t be seen for centuries, but the very idea that the Earth can be shifted on its axis amazes me.

It seems 2011 has gotten off to a rough start. As hard as I try to remain positive about the future, I don’t see a lot of good things going on out there. I’ve had to limit my news exposure because I’m feeling a bit fragile, a little cracked. The good news is that light comes in through the cracks—and light is my word of the year. I have to believe that the cracks will provide a way for the light of change, the light of new experience, learning and blessings to stream in.

Here's to letting in the light.

Photo courtesy