No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Simple Pleasures

The honest truth is that it's been pretty hard for me to remember what kinds of things actually make me feel happy. The simple reason is that I've been pretty exhausted since we moved here, and it can be hard to have fun when your body is wiped out. The other reason is one I've talked about on here already, which is simply that this place is a kind of mismatch for me that means it's hard to recognize myself and what I enjoy in our surroundings.

Yesterday I had a quick moment that was actually one of only a few times that I've felt simple joy since we arrived. The idea of being unhappy for the entire autumn sounds horrible, I realize. But, recently getting some of my energy and self awareness back after having gotten sick has allowed me to recognize that what I've just said is true. Recognizing that I've been unhappy in such basic ways--that it's hard for me to even come up with what I like to do--has helped me shift my focus to getting more aware of what I would like to do in simple day to day circumstances. This weekend I've been making a point of uncovering the answer to such inquiry within really really basic decisions.

Here's an example. Yesterday after taking the little one to her horseback riding lesson we stopped at the local co-op grocery store, which has become a kind of weekly tradition. We use these co-op stops to pick up the basic stuff we happened to run out of over the week--sandwich bread, soy milk, etc. Yesterday the 11-year old was feeling tired enough she wanted to stay in the car while I went inside. So, I walked into the store on my own running through a list of things in my head that I wanted to remember to buy. Going through the area where the carts and hand baskets are kept I asked myself a simple question--do I want to get a basket?

A cart seemed too big since I was only getting a few things. The rest of the story is that I actually hate pushing carts around. When my girl was a baby I usually opted to carry her in a pack rather than push a stroller. When I go to the grocery store I'll often opt to carry a hand basket rather than push a cart even when the truth is I'm getting enough stuff that using the hand basket is going to turn into a crazy exploding over the top balancing act of fullness. It turns out this dislike of carts extends actually into a dislike of hand baskets too. I consistently want to opt for the smaller option. So, if I'm getting just enough to fit into a hand basket I'd actually rather go without any basket at all. There are times when I will reasonably grab a hand basket even though I'd rather not. But last night as I entered the store I decided I didn't want a basket at all. I thought I was getting only just enough stuff that I could manage carrying it myself.

So, I went around the store grabbing our grocery needs and then carrying it in either of my hands, and then eventually my clutching arms too. 2 full size containers of silk original soy milk. 2 large size containers of Brown Cow plain cream on the top yogurt. 2 bags of whole grain English muffins. 1 bag of whole wheat sandwich bread. 2 boxes of Ezekiel flax and grain breakfast cereal. a 6-bunch of bananas. 1 box of oat milk. None of the goods were consistently shaped in a way that allowed me to simple stack and carry. Instead I had to juggle around with delicately balancing clumps of items in my intertwined arms and then carrying other things in each hand. By the time I grabbed the last things--the bags of bread--it was a little touch and go to simply pick one more thing up. I had a balancing act going with the items in my arms but then moving enough to wrap the bread bags between my fingers was hard going. Still, just the simple act of making this work was the most fun I'd had in a long while. I liked how it was kind of absurd that I was bothering with this approach paired with the knowledge that I'd be able to pull it off.

I grew up commercial fishing for salmon and one of the skills I had to learn through it was getting as many salmon in each hand as possible in order to then carry them across the mudflats to the beach where the fish would be sold. By the time I hit my teen years I was able to carry 7 fish in one hand by threading my fingers up the gills and out the mouth with a couple fingers carrying 2 fish at once this way. As a result, for much of my life I had incredibly strong hands. These days I have no reason to ever carry fish in such ways, but I still entertain myself occasionally by carrying as much as possible in one hand. At the alternate universe costume party that Shiloh had last month I ran around at one point with a pail, a tambourine, 3 champagne glasses, and a bottle of wine all in one hand, and then one glass in the other. I love pulling a silly prank like that, even though it is almost entirely only for my own sake. I don't tend to point this feat out to others.

So, anyway, in the grocery store I finally got the last of the items all balanced in my arms and hands and then trudged off through the aisles hurrying to the check out stand. No one in the shop paid any attention to the mountain of products I was carrying. But I pushed between people anyway smiling to no end with myself. I was enjoying my own silly project of stacking and carrying. Then just before I hit the last aisle before the checkout counters a man stood between me and the way through. He looked at me, feigned shock, then jumped dramatically out of the way for me and watched with an enormous and warm smile as I hurried past him also smiling. He shared in my amusement and watched me go past, apparently simply because he could tell I was there in that moment having a good time.

This last week news reports have covered results of psychological studies recently released that claim excessive day dreaming actually has the effect of leading to depression. Most people, apparently, spend more than half of their awake time thinking of being somewhere else, either imaginary or real. They also claim that the study seems to show that it is when we live in the moment that we feel happier, and the more we can practice increasing that kind of time in our day the happier we can feel overall. None of us can help but day dream, and it would seem there is some utility and joy in it. It's just when we overdo it we become unhappy. I take it my grocery balancing routine was a silly little expression of living only in the moment of pulling the small but entertaining-to-me-and-the-man-in-the-aisle feat off. I had to concentrate on keeping all the variously shaped items precariously balanced with each other in order to avoid a disaster like yogurt hitting the floor and exploding all over the chocolate aisle.

With that kind of live in the moment happiness in mind, it occurred to me that it could be good to help myself remember what little things make me feel good by simply listing some of them here. The revealing thing about the grocery store balancing act though, I think, is that it came very much of its moment. It isn't the case that I'm guaranteed to feel tons better any ol' time I try it. But, even so, I can also remember that I tend to like to do that kind of thing. With that ammunition on my belt I can call it up as a possible resource whenever I go into the grocery store and ask myself, do I want a hand basket? The key lesson seems to be recognizing that I've gotta ask myself if I feel like the balancing act, or if maybe in the moment of the next time I go to the grocery store I actually feel like an entirely different approach like dragging a grocery SLED behind me through the store. (Don't you think we should go ahead and do this sometime? I mean, it's not like pulling a sled BEHIND us would take up any more room then pushing one of those damn cart IN FRONT of us. Or, maybe I could go to the store with a little red wagon just to make a little less noice as I pull it behind me?)

Things I tend to enjoy (though not always, because such things depend on the moment):

1. Listening to Al Green while taking a shower.
2. Walking about the streets of an East Coast U.S., or European style city.
3. Walking along the water.
4. Writing reflective blog posts or little story vignettes.
5. Getting dressed up (most especially with a friend).
6. Drinking a cocktail in my own living room while dressed up with a friend knowing we don't have to go anywhere but back to the kitchen to make another one, or back to the closet to try on another outfit.
7. Drinking champagne with someone that loves champagne.
8. Getting mail from a real live person (versus a company).
9. Detangling other people's necklaces (I'm super good at this. Again, another gift of fishing).
10. Getting email from friends.
11. Finding trinkets, treasures, and treats I know a loved one will appreciate.
12. Mailing found trinkets, treasures, and treats to a loved one I know will appreciate them.
13. Planning a champagne or wine drinking extravaganza to have with Melanie.
14. Giving thanks under the full moon (the 11-year old and I did this earlier tonight).
15. Making wishes with the stars (we did this too).
16. Walking or snow shoeing through trees, then getting the heck out of the trees to open sky.
17. Watching the open and changing sky.
18. Spontaneous adventure.
19. Kissing love fests with someone I really like.
20. Making and baking bread.
21. Binding books.
22. Imagining wonderful outfits and places to appropriately (or inappropriately) wear them like a little story intimately dependent on clothing.
23. Discussing existentialism in relation to everyday life.


  1. Great post Elaine, I loved imagining you carrying a toppling mound of groceries, kind of like you see in the cartoons, the items swaying back and forth, 20 feet high, while you're dodging displays of tomatoes on the floor...

    And you hit a point square on the head for me, living in the moment. I have SUCH a hard time doing this, I tend to live in the future in the midst of a terrifying event, and I spend a ton of time orchestrating how to avoid/overcome "it"...although "it" has rarely ever happened, and thus I have lost so much time where I could be enjoying my family, my time, my life, everything I have to be thankful for. At my best I have managed literally enjoying minute by minute, and that has amazing effects.

    I even have bible verses up on my kitchen window that point directly to living in the moment, and how my constant worry adds nothing to my life. For some reason I fight these demons most while alone doing the dishes, which I do a lot of, so, having that reminder there is crucial, especially when the sun is shining through the window and my walls are covered in rainbows from the little crystal in the window...

    Depression and fear can get the best of me, but if I break it down minute by minute, it's not even there.

    Some things I enjoy in the moment:

    -Staring up at blue sky. I feel my physiology change.

    -Zimmel sleeping on my neck, breathing in my ear.

    -That first drink of hot coffee in the morning.

    -Sitting and watching all my fave shows with Josh

    -Watching my kids experience something profound for the first time.

    -Finding a cashier who obviously has had a crappy day, and simply trying to be the customer that makes them smile.

    -A song that spiritually moves me to the point I am literally gasping for air.

    -Taking a ridiculously clear picture of some weird bug outside.

    -Calling my mom every night.

    -Hot hot showers in the dark, where I can feel cleansed inside and out.

    love to you Elaine! Still holding out for a champagne date some day!

    PS...true story, sometimes I don't use a basket either.

  2. what a great list, and a great thing to do, to think about those small moments that make us feel happy. your list makes me feel happy because many of the things that make me feel happy are on your list of happy-feelers and so i think if i were to write a list of things that generally made me feel happy in the moment most of the time, your list would be among those things. lists within lists generally make me feel happy. there's an exponential potential for happiness here (rhyming and wordplay make me happy too).

    hugs to you! big fat squeezie velcro bear hugs to you!