Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Coffee and Chocolate Chips


It is a grey day in Syracuse. The temperature is in the thirties. Rain is falling. The rain will soon turn to a wet snow. Drivers have turned their headlights on as the sun feels like it has left us already at 3:30 in the afternoon. It's a depressing day, but I am typing this in a perfectly pleasant mood. I think it's the coffee and the chocolate chips, but it's probably more than that.

In the other room, working on her homework, my oldest daughter is making my wife groan with her bad jokes. The sounds of the two of them laughing and throwing puns and silly taunts back and forth is delightful.

The dog just passed into the room wagging her tail and sniffing my feet. I have a blanket over me and it drapes down to the ground so she has set herself down on it. She stares at me now and again, groans a yawn, and is now my typing companion.

I have music on. Laura Veirs' "Summer is the Champion" from her album July Flame and it sounds just great. I live my life with a nearly constant soundtrack of good music.

My wife's birthday is in two days and the surprises I have planned for her make me shake with delight. Seriously. I just mis-typed as I said that. Aside from the surprises, we have dinner planned for Friday with her family and my brother (and of course our two girls), which should be great. Then, on Saturday, we are headed to dinner with friends at a tapas bar that we really like.

On top of that, I have really good, dark black coffee and a cup of chocolate chips to enjoy as I write. I've been writing the whole day long: comments to students on their writing, assignments for them to consider, lesson plans, and now 750 words about happiness.

For whatever reason and despite the weather, life feels right. As I said, maybe it's the coffee and chocolate chips, but it seems likely that it's the result of something more interesting than that, even more interesting than everything I've mentioned here.

A couple days ago I heard a radio program on which someone was saying that happiness is a choice. We often forget that this is so. It seems as though happiness just comes over us. It seems that unhappiness comes over us too. In fact, I bet that the prevailing belief is that despair comes down on us through circumstance. I think that circumstance provides the conditions for misery -- grey skies, cold temperatures, rain; the guy who side-swiped the car, the falling kitchen ceiling, the recalcitrant laser printer -- but through all those things I still have decisions to make in all of this.

There are those who are stuck with much worse situations. I'm not using that as a comfort to myself. I point it out to say that there are those who have more reason to not choose happiness. But even among these (and most of my students fall into this category), the option to choose happiness is available and would change their lives.

As it is, I'm still learning to choose happiness. I chose otherwise just two nights ago over, of all things, my inability to set up a laser printer. I called myself a failure, loser, and idiot. I spiraled down into misery because of my active choice to be unhappy. How strange that sounds now, but in the moment, I let myself believe that it was the only way to go.

Today is different. I'm happy. I'm just about as tired as I was the night I couldn't work the laser printer, but I'm savoring the taste of these chocolate chips. I'm the same guy I was the other night but I'm reveling in the taste of this coffee (even as it is turns luke warm).

I remember the moment this morning when I chose to be happy. It was when the first student walked in and I greeted him. I really noticed him, and in that moment forgot whatever things I could have chosen to worry over. I said hello and asked him a question. I got him talking and I got myself listening.

My chocolate chips are gone now. I have half a cup of coffee remaining. My daughter has finished her homework. The laser printer still needs to be installed.

And I am happy.

What a lovely choice to have made. What a good thing to be responsible for.

Write on.