One of the gifts of this time of contraction is that it gives us an opportunity to practice a skill that may have grown dusty with disuse. During the past decades of economic expansion and affluence, its been all too easy to lose the talent for enjoying small things, small moments, small pleasures, the talent for figuring out what in the realm of the everyday gives us delight without requiring anything from our pocketbooks.
One of the small pleasures I am enjoying right now are my daily visits to the Snowdrops in the Arbor Garden. It may be 12 degrees outside with a fierce wind howling, but gosh darn it, the Snowdrops are perky.
I actually think this kind of enjoyment of small simple moments could leave us all happier than our global buffet of options left us.
The problem with a surfeit of goods is that when we are presented with unlimited vacation options, unlimited shopping venues, and forty nine brands of cat food, we begin to think that in every situation there is a perfect choice with no downsides. While this is never true, we experience it as true. This leads to crazy decision making and restless peak bagging, the idea that we MUST do Paris for breakfast, Rome for lunch, and Las Vegas for dinner or we won’t be happy or complete or fulfilled.
When we think the perfect outfit for the perfect meal in the perfect place exists, we lose track of the positives in the choices we actually made and are flooded with restless feelings of dissatisfaction and endless second guessing. Instead of getting on with it, we recall the choices we didn’t make and imagine that one of them was a better option than what we chose.
As we eat that gelato on the Spanish Steps, we think maybe lunch would have been better in Monte Carlo than in Rome. Fewer carbs.
I hope these times will encourage us to simplify our lives and our expectations. This would give us all a chance to discover that our restlessness has less to do with our choices and more to do with our anxieties about our choices. If things do get simpler, we will have a chance to discover just how much joy and energy we lost agonizing about volumizing in the shampoo aisle when Prell would have been just fine.
I mention Prell because when I think of the shampoo selection of my childhood it was Prell, Head & Shoulders, and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. This choice was enough. And later, when I was a teenager, it felt wildly expansive to have the option of that new upstart brand, Herbal Essences. A choice of four felt enormous. Now, there are so many hair products available, it seems a small rainforest was destroyed for the sake of each hair follicle.
Sometimes less is less and sometimes less is more.
Imagine growing up a couple hundred years ago in a small isolated village. Let’s call it Prellville. If you lived in Prellville, you had only a couple hundred people to compare yourself with. You didn’t feel bad about yourself because you didn’t look like Giselle Bundchen or play football like Tom Brady, because the prettiest girl in Prellville had a wart on her nose and the best athlete had athlete’s foot. This meant your looks fit somewhere into a smaller spectrum of beauty and talent and so did your throwing arm.
Frankly, I think this scenario was probably refreshing. Maybe not the lice or crop failures, but there were up sides to life in ancient Prellville. You were encouraged to get on with your life without expecting the impossible. You married a nice person or not, without expecting to land America’s Next Top Model or Brad Pitt. There weren’t many career options in Prellville so maybe you enjoyed the job that was your lot and maybe you didn’t, but your joy in life probably had more to do with your attitude than your options. And one attitude that your life did not indulged you in was an attitude of maximizing, thinking that the perfect choice existed in every situation and that nothing would suffice but the perfect choice.
Living without that attitude was one of the truly good things about life in Prellville.
Honestly, when are we going to notice that the people we credit with making one perfect choice after another don’t exactly look happy. As far as I can tell, most Masters of the Universe are the first rats entering the rat race every morning and the last to leave it. Their hair may be blessed with the hippest, hottest, most expensive products, but how exactly are they enjoying this?
I guess what I am saying is that if current circumstances continue to slow our society down, we may find surprising joys in the slower pace. While our minds will want to clamor on and on about safaris not taken and gems not purchased, our hearts will be quite content with the Snowdrops. Which really leads us to the only choice worth making, heart or mind? Which is going to run our lives?