I walk briskly to the counter to retrieve my cappuccino with a splash of oat milk and two extra shots of espresso. I question whether I have a caffeine addiction, but quickly realize I have bigger things to worry about. It’s been one of those days that simultaneously speed by and drag on with the density of a full-grown elephant. But at this moment, as I sip from my cappuccino and breathe in the fresh air on my brisk walk to my next meeting, I stop; time unclenches its fist and drops me out of its grasp. Somehow the coffee puts me in a space of mindfulness and focus that I couldn’t have imagined just a moment ago.

I find that coffee is a sort of meditation for me. When I meditate, I am able to step outside the haze clouding my mind. I am so grounded in the present moment that difficulties of the past and obligations that await me in the future don’t matter. When I meditate, everything falls out of focus save the rise and fall of my breaths. When I sip my coffee, my attention is solely directed toward the steam rising out of my mug, the rich dark foam coating my throat, and the distinct mix of bitter and sweet suffusing the air. 

That experience left me in awe. Somehow, a toffee-colored liquid contained in a paper form drastically shifted my perspective. It made me wonder what small items other Princetonians perceive as infusing joy into their days, so I spoke to the Nass community to gain some insight.

“Just past Forbes, there is a steep staircase specifically designed to make sure the walker steps with the same foot every time they step down to the next step. I have found that when my day is particularly stressful, walking down this staircase reminds me that innocent joy that is always around me. Quickly walking down these steps, feels eerily like flying (or maybe falling slowly), as my steps thud one after another and my body accepts the cadence of my feet, happily soaring me down the stairs without much effort.”

Anya Miller

“Every night (okay, like twice a week), I read a chapter of a novel before I sleep. I can’t say I even love the novel I’m currently on, and often I’m simply too tired, but the exercise feels generous, and in a strange way like an act of rebellion. My days are spent consuming vast amounts of media—books, journal articles, lecture slides—that are assigned to me, so I like to remind myself as often as possible that I’m in control of my time. For those few minutes, I’m able to forget about all the things others are demanding of me and truly be with myself.”

Sam Bisno 

“Something that really centers me is driving on the freeway. In a way, I have to force myself to be calm because the stakes are so high, but driving somewhere familiar, driving fast, takes me out of space and my body in a way that I can’t usually access.”

Sierra Stern

“Sometimes, I catch the sun as it is just dipping below the horizon. For a few moments, I stand witness as the sky is painted in strokes of warm orange and deep magenta and even hints of gold. Sunsets like these place a smile on my face, and when I close my eyes to sleep, the beauty of it decorates the back of my eyelids.”

Jiyoun Roh

Sunsets. Novels. Driving. The topics seem worlds apart, but they all share the unique ability to free us Princetonians from our constantly moving and seemingly never-ending, work-filled existences. They all provide escapism, in a sense. Coffee is my impetus to take a moment to be in my body and not just in my mind. Most of my life at Princeton is not built that way. If I don’t stop and take moments like this for myself, they will never take shape.

I think carving out intentional spaces like these is so significant precisely because the Princeton environment is not conducive to focusing solely on the body—to being grounded and letting your mind go. Taking these few moments to stop as I sip my coffee gives me the strength and stamina to press the proverbial play button and continue on with my day more productively and in a clearer headspace. I urge everyone to find a small experience, activity, or object that brings them joy, headspace, and an escape from the flurry of everyday Princeton existence.