Why do you need to travel to Scandinavia to enjoy a hot cup of tea after a meal in a restaurant? This is an idea I spoke with my friend E.C. about years and years ago. I still so simply and truly buy into this. You can be more observant. You can enjoy life more. You can do something different. You can enjoy a hot cup of tea right where you are – both in your kitchen and at a local restaurant.

E.C. told me that he had traveled to China, and had seen so much, and had observed so many details of regular life. And had taken so many photos. And then he wondered why people don’t do the same where they are? Why don’t people look for the details and observe the anomalies of daily living? Why don’t people explore what’s really underfoot?

There’s no expectation to do so, and people are busy, and people are not in a relaxation-enjoy-life mindset, and people feel rushed with daily chores, errands, expectations. But … does it need to be this way?

You don’t need to go to a monastery in India. Or break bread in the mills of Poland. Or dip into the Dead Sea.

Right around where you are. What can you do?

Gretchen wrote about breaking the hedonic treadmill by not having access to sending emails for a few days. Then, when she came back to email, it felt soooo good! Exactly.

My grandmother tells a story of a family with seven children that all lived in one room. The family went to the Rabbi and asked the rabbi, “What can we do? We have no space.” The Rabbi said, “Go get a goat and put her in the center of your one room.” The family said, “What?! That doesn’t make sense.” And the Rabbi said, “That’s my recommendation.” The family came back a week later, and told the Rabbi that didn’t seem to help. The Rabbi said, “Now, take the goat out of the room.”

That’s it! That’s the hedonic treadmill. Change things up. Feel too cramped? Make it more cramped, then relieve the pressure.

And you can create your own new experiences to also break the hedonic treadmill. How can you do something very, very different just exactly where you are?

There’s a folk story about a man for whom everything had gone badly, and he went off to live in a far-off country. He wrote letters to his parents telling them of things going on with him, and eventually, things were not going great in the new place either. So his father write him a letter, “Son, how do you expect things to be very different there? You took down there the same thing that was an issue here – you took yourself. So come back and figure yourself out here. We’d love to see you.”

I read this story as very positive. Like, look inside and make the changes you want to make, and then enjoy yourself and your life more. I can see how it could be read differently, and give the father an overly didactic and moralistic tone, but I don’t think about it that way – I read it as a dad’s concern and suggestion for his son.

————————-
In summary, try any of these 6 ways to do something differently – exactly where you are:

  1. Go to a new restaurant nearby with your spouse or good friend. Dress nicely. Enjoy each bite. Write a review to each other over email afterwards.
  2. Walk in an area of town you know, but take photos as if documenting for National Geographic and email them to friends later.
  3. Do your regular sport but pay attention to each muscle. This is an idea I picked up from David Seah. If you’re not actively doing a sport, do this with walking.
  4. Go enjoy the sun in a new way. Find a day that is sunny. Go outside for ten minutes with the idea of enjoying the sun in a new way. What can you try? With your eyes closed? Sunning just the back of your neck for example? Dancing in the sun?
  5. Buy one flower, and spend ten minutes smelling it differently. Smell it when it’s near you, when it’s far away, when it’s in water, when it’s not, when it’s in the sun, when it’s in the shade. What works best?
  6. Hug something soft – a stuffed animal, a dog, a cat. Really feel how the softness feels. Describe it to a friend.

————————–

You’ll notice a lot of the above ideas are also about sharing the feeling of the something different that you’re doing – sending an email about it, describing it. Go ahead and share. As Karen Salmansohn says, really share. Shaaaaaare.


6 Comments

  1. Posted Thursday August 30, 2007 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Great posts today Senia. One of the upshots of traveling is coming back to your home and seeing the familiar anew. To do that w/o actually going anywhere is a challenge, but very wortwhile. I will take this message to heart and give it a try.

  2. Posted Thursday August 30, 2007 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Great suggestions, Senia. I’m on the lookout for new things in my old neighborhood and telling others about it too. Aloha.

  3. Doug
    Posted Friday August 31, 2007 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Senia – Another great posting – reminds me of Dr. Seligman’s savoring exercise. As busy as I am lately, this is a must for me. While a I don’t know much about meditation, I have a feeling that these two approaches share some benefits.

  4. Posted Sunday September 2, 2007 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Great post Senia! Reminds me of the time I came back from Japan – everything about home just seemed new and alive and I realized it wasn’t anything about home or Japan – it was the attitude of wonder I was suddenly living in.

  5. Posted Sunday September 2, 2007 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Great post! A lot of your suggestions remind me of things I already do…number 1 reminds me of the time me and my husband picked a restaurant from the internet, the comments were all very positive about the food so we dressed up and went there one day. Turns out it was more like a neigbourhood cafeteria then a restaurant and we stood out like sore thumbs because we were waaay overdressed. The food, however, was brilliant and we had a great time and it’s still a memory we think of fondly.

    Number 2 reminds me of the times we take a camera to document our life for family back home. As I’m from Holland and my husband from Aussie, no matter where we live, there’s always ‘family back home’ so we end up taking lots of photos of ‘mundane’ things and writing descriptions about it, and yeah, it does keep you in the moment and all that.

    Number 6 reminds me of the Scrubs episode where Zach Braff orders a box of kittens in an emergency. At least he does in his head. Ever since that episode when my husband or I feel lousy or anything we call out “Bring out the box of kittens. Stat!”

  6. Posted Monday September 10, 2007 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Very interesting perspective, thanks. Love the folk stories.