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On really, truly enjoying things

On a podcast, I recently heard Ira Glass mention that sometimes, he finds himself eating meals and paying no attention to what he’s eating at all.

Chicken parmesan pasta

You know how sometimes you drive somewhere, arrive, and have basically no memory of getting there? What he’s describing is kinda like that! 

This statement of his piqued my interest, mainly because I almost never experience life this way. 

Pasta Primavera in a large stock pot.

For better or for worse, I am generally very IN whatever moment I’m experiencing. I notice the good, the bad, and everything in between. 

As I thought about this more, I wondered if this is a key to feeling joyful without needing to spend a lot of money.

tree with moss.

If you go through life only halfway observing what you experience, it stands to reason that you would not extract 100% of the joy that life has to offer. 

So, then you’d need twice as many joyful experiences in order to reach the joy level of someone who is more observant. 

small creek.

A little while back, a friend said, “You know, something I love about you is that it takes so little to make you happy.”

And now that I’ve thought about this more, I’m wondering if it’s because I am really soaking in all the happiness that my experiences have to offer. 

When I walk in the woods, I notice things like:

  • the delicious crispness of warm, but not humid air
  • a brilliant blue sky
snowy trees under a blue sky.

from the last time I went skiing. Isn’t that sky amazing?

  • a gentle breeze
  • little plants, mushrooms, lichens, flowers, berries

mushrooms on side of tree.

  • a gorgeous piece of ice 
  • sparkly frost 

leaves with frost on them.

When I listen to music, I feel all the sounds in my body, sometimes like chills going up my spine, sometimes like the feeling of being enveloped in a warm blanket.

Brahms sheet music.

(This is a fascinating article on the psychology of chills in the body.)

I notice sunrises and sunsets, of course, but I also pay attention to beautiful streaks of light, a glow of yellow sunlight coming through my window, the way steam rises off of a pot or a cup of tea.

Or the way my front door’s glass makes a colorful rainbow on my floor.

prism of rainbow colors on the floor.                     

I take a lot of delight in sensations like:

  • a cool shower after a summer walk
  • a hot shower in the winter months
  • the feeling of sliding into a bed with fresh, unwrinkled sheets
  • fuzzy warm slippers on a cold day
  • the pleasant weight of a purring cat on my chest

And when I eat my food, I am always paying attention to what it tastes like, even if it’s just a peanut butter and honey sandwich.

(Which IS, for the record, deliciously satisfying.)


One of my favorite eating experiences that just came to mind: when I make my grandma’s apricot sweet rolls, I love to eat some of them fresh out of the oven while the sugary coating on the outside is slightly crispy. SO GOOD.

Apricot swirl sweet rolls cooling on a wire rack.



I am obviously not a mental health expert, so I think you should take this whole post with a grain of salt.

But, what I’m talking about here probably falls under the category of mindfulness, which does seem to offer some mental health benefits (for example, see this Harvard article.)

And what I read about mindfulness says that we can get better at it with practice; when we purposely notice and enjoy what’s good in our present moment, it becomes easier and easier to do that over time.

A little note about noticing the bad

I said above that I notice the good, the bad, and everything in between. But interestingly, I think observing the unpleasant things somehow makes the pleasant things feel even better.

I hate being sticky and sweaty, but I love the relief of getting into a cool shower.

Being chilly makes the sensation of crawling under the covers even better.

rainy windshield.

I dislike days with dark clouds, but after a string of those, the sunshine makes me so pleased, I could cry happy tears. Like…sometimes when I get to a sunny spot on a trail I just stop, close my eyes, and soak it in.

sun rising behind a tree.

So…I really think that noticing all the flavors of life experiences helps to boost my happiness.

And the wonderful thing is: noticing costs exactly $0. 🙂

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

(And it’s ok to disagree with me. I really am just thinking out loud in this post, and I know my experiences might not be the same as everyone else’s.)

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Monday 15th of April 2024

Living in the moment is a wonderful quality to bring to every day. I don't get chills but I am observant too, with a pretty good memory, and as I am (ahem) now older than 60, I have a lot of memories to think about. People who don't pay attention to their food are probably not cooks, or responsible for family meals, or regular meals--they assume the food will appear without any effort on their part, perhaps. As my experience with weight loss efforts and my DH's diabetes mean we have to pay attention, I notice food and food service closely. Perhaps some people live in their heads and not their senses, and others live in both. One of my favorite memories is landing for the first time in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), around 1962, and the smell of the air as we emerged from the propeller airplane onto the rollup stairs, was of pepper. Dampness, from the river, and pepper. It was wonderful.


Thursday 11th of April 2024

I love this post because recently I've had the epiphany that there is no crescendo to life. That is, as a young person who is inching slowly towards middle age one day, there is never going to be an "aha, I've reached my peak moment! This is what I was striving for all along!" moment or day or even year. Life is always going to ebb and flow, and at first that realization was disappointing. I think I had some mythical idea that things would improve and then I'd coast along and suddenly be self-actualized. Not that my life was bad, but there was this striving towards better, better, more, more.

Now I'm realizing that won't ever happen, and that is actually a great thing! It means that every single day is an opportunity for "peak" moments in smaller ways, and that's actually what life is. As a not-very-mindful person, that is hard to do, but important.

Heather Mar

Saturday 13th of April 2024

@Kate, I appreciate your epiphany and how you put it into words! I am super-close to age 40, and also realized over the last decade that -wait- I had subconsciously envisioned that things were supposed to get easier as we get older/wiser/figure more out/increase earnings and savings, etc. but that's not really how it works. (On the other hand, WHEW, am I so glad I'm not in high school anymore : )

You're so right, that each life stage brings new complications/challenges - sometimes even each year, or each day. I think the mindfulness approach that Kristen illustrated so beautifully can help us appreciate more of the peaks, even when small, and weather the valleys, even when deeper.

And @Kristen, Thank you for writing about this topic in a way that is so palatable to so many! My mom has been so resistant to the words "mindfulness" and "meditation" but I keep trying to figure out how to truly share with her the benefits and joys of being more mindful. I shared this post with her.


Thursday 11th of April 2024

I love this perspective!

Hawaii Planner

Thursday 11th of April 2024

I know you're plenty busy with nursing school, but I think you would really enjoy the class "The Science of Well Being", which is taught by a Yale professor for free, online via Cousera. What you described is considered "Savoring", and is discussed in the course.

I have absolutely loved the class, and while many things resonated with what I already do, it's so useful to understand more about the why behind it, and I was also exposed to new content. Anyway, maybe for a future life stage for you to consider taking.


Thursday 11th of April 2024

Hello there! I'm stopping by after reading about this post on SHU's blog. I love this post, and I like the point about noticing ALL the things, good or bad. It's not about going through life, determined to enjoy every moment- it's about being present with whatever the situation is. If you didn't notice the unpleasant, uncomfortable moments, you wouldn't have as great an appreciation for the wonderful times. I like how you describe it as noticing all the "flavors of life."


Wednesday 10th of April 2024

Love this!!

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