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Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health. (Julia Child)

Abundance. Either you have it, or you don't. But this time of the year, it's hard not to think about it.

Gifts piled up high, lots of glitter and bling bling, spending large amounts of money, it is dazzling and exhilarating. But is it really what we want? The more and the flashier, the better?

I vividly remember some footage of Michael Jackson shopping. You can see him rush through the store, pointing to huge vases and other decorative items to signify he's going to buy them, one after the other, without even taking the time to admire them, desire them, get himself all excited over the fact that he's going to acquire them. Despite all the purchases, he doesn't look happy at all. I'd much rather take my time, hesitate, wonder if I really want something and if it's too expensive, ponder if there's something else I'd rather use my cash for. From that perspective, having less money than a pop music superstar might be a blessing in disguise! Half of the pleasure lies in the wait and anticipation!

I am a strong adept of spoiling myself and others... in moderation.

Did you ever notice how quickly we adapt to things that initially seemed so wonderful and exciting?

When my family and I moved to Nova Scotia, I was amazed at the size of our new house and at the forest in our backyard. Two years later, by some mysterious process, our house had shrinked. It was not longer big! I also realized I hardly noticed the forest anymore. Unless I made the conscious effort.

This happens to people all the time. They buy a pet and spend the first few days (weeks if the pet is lucky) playing with kitty and taking puppy for walks. Then, slowly, gradually, insidiously, the furry friend becomes part of the decor, and has to complain to get fed.

I experienced this "adaptation-to-fun" phenomenon yet again while my mother was visiting from Quebec, in October. Over the course of a few days, we played 4 games of Scrabble. As one could expect, the first and second games were much more enjoyable than the fourth. By then I was getting kind of blasé, and ready to do something else. (It might also have something to do with the fact that she beat me by about a hundred points during that fourth game. Just saying.)

Truth is, we often fail to appreciate what's readily available.

I might have discovered this during my first semester in university. Studying days, evenings and weekends was a completely new reality for me, and not necessarily a pleasant one. But there was a good side to it: it made me appreciate what I had so little of, namely, free time. I had never realized how precious free time is, and that's probably because I had good amounts of it. But not in university! When the last term paper was finally handed, and the last exam finally over, I ran to the video store to rent the movie I had been wanting to watch for weeks. It was so exciting to finally have the time to sit down and relax in front of the TV screen! (Unfortunately, I was so exhausted from a few late nights of last minute studying that I fell asleep on the couch within the first 15 minutes of the movie. Oh well.)

It's a real challenge to appreciate what we have when we have it in abundance. It is such a challenge that we keep trying to gain more - more possessions, more money, more space, more friends, more excitement... instead of appreciating what's already there.

I know for a fact that one of the reasons I love lobster so much is because it's always been scarce. On my plate once or twice a year, and that was it. Now that I live in a region where it's readily available, fresh and affordable... I still eat it only occasionally. Having it often would be sure to kill part of my joy. So I let myself linger a little. I let the craving grow. Then when I finally have it, it's sooooooo good!

When there is less of something, we savour it so much more intensely! There's a scene in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where a square of chocolate is smelled at length before the first (small) bite is taken. This is because for Charlie's family, chocolate is an expensive luxury that does not enter the house often (and when it does, the 7 family members have to share the one chocolate bar). Now if buying a chocolate bar is easy for you, you can recreate the feeling by buying expensive chocolate (or any other delicacy) only once a year or so. You can even ask Santa to bring you some. As opposed to what you would do with something more affordable, available in large quantities, you find yourself eating it very slowly, savouring it, letting all your senses absorb it.

Moderation does not mean frugality and asceticism at all times, hell no! If you're able to indulge, by all means do so! Life is short, you know! But keep in mind that small and occasional (and truly savoured) are important ingredients for happiness. Another trick: if you share what you have (either with friends and family or with people who really need a little help), you'll feel even better!

My friend N, whom I had just asked if she drinks/appreciates wine, answered "No, not really. I do, however, like Champagne." Now that's a wise woman! Know what you truly enjoy, and concentrate on that!

As for me, I try to live up to the title of an oenology column I read monthly, that would translate to something like "Drink less, drink better". Once in a while, I'll open a great bottle, and it's well worth the money, if you consider the pleasure - visual, olfactory and social as much as gustatory - it gives my drinking partners and I! The rest of the time, I drink very little. I like to see it this way: all the money I have saved from not buying all those other bottles, I use it for this one very special bottle. Which makes it all the more special!

What are your luxurious pleasures, and how do you keep yourself lingering a little?

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