Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thinking About Happiness (And Coffee)

Consider the habitual cup of coffee.

I had an enormous amount of time today to think about things as I drove our car from Wiliamsburg to Syracuse over the course of eight and a half hours. My wife takes motion sickness medication before long car rides and immediately goes into a coma. My two daughters take up headphones and the video screens and go into movie hypnosis. I don't like the radio much and it's hard to hear over the road noise, so I tend to drive by myself and think as the miles pile up.

Today I was thinking about what does and doesn't make me happy. I've been troubled of late by thinking about moon-shots, giant leaps that a person can take. My problem: I can't think of what my moon-shot might be. There's nothing I'm so devoted to that I would go at it at that level. Writing is the closest thing to something I might do, but I've never seen the moon-shot in it or, when I have glimpsed one, I've shied away from it or gone running in the other direction.

It comes down to not knowing what makes me happy and what keeps me from happiness.

I know that habit is a problem for me. I do things out of habit rather than out of any desire to do them. You probably do too. Consider the cup of coffee in the morning. Tomorrow when you get up and instinctively reach for the filter and coffee grounds (or those damned plastic cups that are clogging up the landfills) and then hold that first cup in your hands, try this. Inhale the smell of the coffee. Hold that for a moment. Now taste the stuff. Really taste it. Do you like it? No, really, do you like it? If so, then savor that sip and wait a few moments before you take the next one. When you do take that next one, ask the same question again.

If at any time you are drinking coffee that you don't want, stop and consider what the hell you're drinking it for.

And don't give me any shit about caffeine. If you need a drug that badly, take two Excedrin and shut the hell up.

This experiment works better if you are drinking black coffee. If you are drinking coffee with cream and sugar I suggest that you spoon the sugar into a shot glass and serve the cream into another shot glass. Then, instead of drinking the coffee, eat the sugar and drink the cream.

If the idea of two spoonfuls of sugar and some half-and-half sound good to you, then skip the coffee and just eat the sugar and cream. Take the Excedrin and you'll have your whole morning set.

My point is that I more often than not drink coffee because I drink coffee. These are the types of habits that get in the way of my being happy. They keep me from knowing what I really want.

Tonight, for dinner, I toasted two pieces of bread, spread one with peanut butter and the other with jam. I ate that peanut butter and jelly and it tasted great. Every bite of it was a pleasure. When I was done I thought I wanted another. I stopped then and thought about it. If I really wanted another, I told myself, then I was going to go right ahead and make another, eat it, and enjoy myself. But when I thought about it, I realized that I wanted to feel as happy as I had when I was eating the sandwich. I wanted that feeling again.

Another sandwich wasn't going to give it to me.

Having that flashing understanding go off in my head made me smile. That smile tasted great. It was the feeling I was after.

I didn't resist temptation here. I didn't fight the habit. I just thought about it for a moment and saw that the sandwich wasn't what I was after. It had led me to a feeling of happiness, but it wasn't happiness itself. Happiness, it turns out, is something else entirely.

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to wake up and the house will be chilly. I'll come downstairs and the habit will lead me toward the coffee pot. I might make a cup of coffee and enjoy the living shit out of it. Or I might find that I'm looking for something other than a cup of coffee. I might be looking for a run, or a blanket and a good book, or just a moment of peace in which to say to myself, happily and with clarity of purpose, good morning.

When you get up in the morning and think about that cup of coffee, let me know what you decide.

Write on.