The Art of Savoring

A few days ago I wrote about savoring. It’s worth writing more. One of the great “hidden” truths of happiness is this: when it comes to creating more happiness in our lives, the biggest difference is made by the smallest, simplest things. I like to bring my wife, Ana, a cup of hot tea in bed every morning when she wakes up. I bring myself one, too, climb into bed, and we sit relishing that hot, creamy-smooth, indescribably delicious first cup of the day. Most times after the first or second sip one of us will look at the other and say, “Ohmigod. That is sooo good.” Here’s the thing: It’s just a cup of tea. It’s not like we’ve never had one before. But we’ve learned how to lose ourselves in the moment of it — not just the warmth and smoothness and flavor and mild buzz of it, but also the feeling of sitting in bed, warm and cozy, in each other’s company, without a care or trouble in the world. (Of course, there are cares and troubles in our world. We know that. But they can wait another ten minutes.) It’s a fantastically nourishing way to start the day. Interesting thing about the word savor: it shares a common root with savvy and the sapiens of Homo sapiens. That’s no accident. Savoring = deep knowledge. By taking a moment to deeply taste something — the feel of the sun on your face, the sound and sense of a well-turned sentence, a sip of hot tea, the person next to you — you gain insight. Into the...

Savoring

Much of what I’ve learned about the ability to savor life’s delicious moments, whenever and wherever they occur, came from my mother. This includes the capacity to savor food, music, irony, humor, the absurd, the profound … and the conscious spending of money, even when you have hardly any to spare. Both my parents were teachers, and finances were always tight in our home when I was growing up. Every purchase—every new toy, every dinner out (a rarity), every vacation—was something bought only after careful consideration. In my mother’s eyes, the “worth spending money on” category included education, books, good food (home-cooked, with endless enthusiasm), and travel when possible. Once, when she and my father were still newlyweds, the piano tuner come over to work on our Steinway, which had come over from Germany with my father’s mother during the war. “The tuning bill was $25,” she said when she told me this story. “I looked in our checkbook; we had just over $27. I wrote the check on the spot.” She wasn’t sure where the next bag of groceries would come from, but our piano was in tune. Even though money might be tight, she never let that make her tight with money. When she decided to make a purchase, even if that purchase cost her dear, she made it with a spirit of totally carefree delight, as if she had all the money in the world. One winter we learned that my father’s choir was going to be on television at Christmas time, performing Handel’s Messiah. A week or so before the broadcast, I came home from...

A Day in the Life

“Well what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” — Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day Are you creating your own life? Or is the force of fate (history, destiny, circumstance) encircling you from all sides, weaving its inexorable web around you so that the path you tread ends up being what it’s fated to be, no matter what choices you make? Or (which seems to me a whole lot more likely) is the truth somewhere in between, some combination of the two? And if so, what is that mix like — the universe’s plan for you versus your plan for you? Right now I’m halfway through Life After Life, Kate Atkinson’s enormously acclaimed 2013 masterpiece that explores those questions in a breathtakingly powerful way as it follows the life of Ursula Beresford Todd, born on February 11, 1910, through two world wars and a kaleidoscope of more personal conflicts. “What if had a chance to do it again and again,” her brother asks, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” And in a weirdly magical way, Ursula has exactly that chance. Again and again. And in the process, she gets to explore the limits of our personal ability to determine events. So does Jake Epping, the main character of Stephen King’s brilliant epic-novel 11-22-63, in which a schoolteacher from Maine stumbles upon the opportunity to go back in time and see if he can prevent JFK’s assassination. (And if so, what might be the long-term consequences.) You may not be a Stephen King fan, but that book is one of my...