Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What Do I Like about Mornings?

That was the question Big A asked me at seven o'clock this morning, right after she'd snuggled into bed beside me and announced, "Let's have a little talk."

"Well, I like drinking coffee," I answered.

"What else?"

"I like it when you come into my bedroom and say 'Good morning!' and are happy to see Daddy and me," I continued. "And I like talking to you like this."

"Do you like eating toast with butter?" she asked.

"Yes, that too," I said.

Big A's question got me thinking about a book that came out last year that claimed people are terrible at cultivating happiness in their lives. Dan Gilbert, the Harvard psychology professor and author, seems like a pretty amusing guy. Take this excerpt from a Mother Jones interview about his book:

Mother Jones: The title of your book is "Stumbling on Happiness." Do people stumble on happiness the way a wanderer stumbles on an oasis in the desert ("stumble upon"), or the way a father stumbles on a child's toy in the dark ("stumble over")? Thematic aspects of the question aside.

Dan Gilbert: Most people think it is the first, but it is actually the second. The book is about the mistakes people make in their attempts to locate happiness. In this sense, people stumble on happiness the way Dick Van Dyke stumbles on an ottoman. Or the way Chevy Chase stumbles on everything. Or if you are too young to conjure either of the images, then how about the way Paris Hilton stumbles on high heels when she's totally ripped?

Gilbert was talking mostly about how people are poor at predicting what will make them happy in the future. But it struck me that I am pretty bad at doing it in the present, too. All the things I had just told Big A that I enjoyed about mornings were things that could make me happier right now, yet somehow are the very items I always rush through or skip. My coffee is usually stone cold before I take a sip, the newspaper remains folded on the table until late at night, and breakfast? I make sure the kids eat a good one, but somehow hardly ever sit down with them myself. What, I wondered, would the morning feel like if I gave the things I like preference over the rest of the to-do list?

So when DH poured me a cup of coffee, rather than leave it on the counter and go on to 15 other tasks, I actually drank it while eating some toast. Then I read my favorite sections of the newspapers we get delivered to the house before resuming the mad rush to get everyone out of the house on time. It took maybe 15 minutes in total, so I skimped on cleaning up the kitchen like I usually do, since I have to clean it up after dinner anyhow.

I know this must be duh-obvious to most, but my morning felt markedly less stressful than usual. That's striking to me, given that this week has been quite unpleasant and I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed with childcare and work issues. But I am a little happier today than I was yesterday, and it didn't require some new event to happen that solved the unpleasant things I am currently dealing with. All it took was warm coffee and toast.

I wonder what other areas of my life I could improve, just by realizing what I already like about them?


Beruriah said...

This is something I'm actually good at. Being very happy about my cereal in the morning or seeing a squirrel on my porch.

I'm glad you took time to enjoy your coffee. Now make it a habit.

meg said...

I'm going to do this. Finding happiness in small places is what I need right now. And I'm looking for them!

niobe said...

When I stumble over happiness, I usually end up face down on the floor, nursing two skinned knees and worrying about a possible concussion. In other words, in my case, the author is exactly right about my exceedingly poor predictive abilities.

You know the saying: When G-d wants to punish us, He answers our prayers? Written for me.

Lori said...

This is SO true! All too often the things that make us happies are the things right in front of us that we most often ignore!!

I am going to think about what pieces of my day I already enjoy, and how I can expand or emphasize those parts of my day more. Great idea!