A couple of years ago, I got up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and as I made my way through the kitchen, I walked through a cloud.
I had picked a basket of peaches the day before, from one of our many fruit trees, and left it on the kitchen table for the kids to grab from. At some point during the night, the peaches had reached the height of their ripeness and started radiating an aura of perfume.
That summer night, in the total darkness, I walked through that cloud of perfume. It was so intense I could almost feel it on my skin. All the memory of biting into a fresh picked peach, still warm from the sun, was packed into that fragrance. I could taste it. I could feel the juices running down my chin. It was a visceral moment, both the experience of walking into the perfume cloud, and all the experience memories it triggered.
No artificial flavors, or manufactured fragrances can replicate the experience of picking a ripe peach off of a tree and biting into it. It has a simplicity and naturalness that can’t be imitated.
What’s more, it can’t be scheduled or delayed. A fresh peach can be put in the fridge, or canned for a winter cobbler, but it will never taste the same as at its perfect moment of peak ripeness. It’s an ephemeral pleasure. You can’t put it off for a few weeks until life slows down. It is a pleasure that must be seized and savored when the opportunity presents itself.
But that goes against they way we are conditioned. It is so easy to “save up” our pleasure for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and major events that occur only once in a while. It feels more special that way. But we neglect the everyday. We put no energy into making this Tuesday special, even while we heap tremendous pressure on a holiday to be perfect.
While there is joy in anticipation, it encourages us to procrastinate and save up pleasure for special occasions.
Then, because we have been living in a state of deprivation for so long, we pile unrealistic expectations onto special occasions to be perfect and to satisfy all our emotional needs. These expectations rarely pan out and we are bitter and angry.
If you are trying to host the perfect Thanksgiving, and you’ve planned out the tablescape, decorated the house, have a new dress, and made sure that the turkey is golden and worthy of a magazine spread, but when the day comes your husband has a couple bourbons too many, your mother starts dishing out unsolicited advice, your teenager retreats into their earbuds, and your toddler niece manages to yank on the tablecloth and break a few wine glasses, the whole thing feels like a disaster.
On the contrary, if every day in the last week you’ve enjoyed little daily pleasures and luxuriated in sensory celebrations, then when family drama happens (as it always does), you steer your husband to the recliner to get him out of the way, plunk the toddler in your mother’s arms to keep them both occupied, enlist the teen to help you clean up the broken glass, and you laughingly get out some Dixie cups and serve up the Beaujolais Nouveau, so everybody can toast the joys of family chaos.
In addition to putting a debilitating level of pressure on special events, our obsessive focus on the next big occasion can make you oblivious to the pleasure of the moment.
It is so easy to pin 30 fabulous ideas for foods, decorations, and activities, while eating junky food off junky dishes. It is so easy to shop for that perfect new outfit online, while you wear old stained sweats that make you feel fat and dumpy.
It is so easy to look forward to pleasure to come, but make no effort to enjoy the opportunities available today.
Contentment and joy does not spring from occasional events, but from savoring the little everyday pleasures you can experience right now.
Delaying gratification is a concept that we, rightly, associate with maturity and wisdom. But it is so easy to fall into the habit of delaying gratification just on principle, rather than for a specific purpose. If you put off pleasure because in doing so, you will get greater pleasure later, that is wise. Sticking to a strict budget can be uncomfortable in the short run, but if it means you get to later buy a house that is a joy to live in, then you end up with greater pleasure in the long run.
But if you save back those beautiful dishes for a special occasion that almost never happens, or wear worn out sweats because it’s “just a boring Tuesday night at home” when you could just as easily wear something beautiful, you get no return on your investment. There is no payoff later for delaying now.
Special occasions are wonderful, but they are days that come and go just like every other. The effort you put into making today just a little more special, a little more purposeful, pays off immediately.
Use the good dishes. Put on the silky pajamas hiding in the back of the drawer. Put dinner onto serving dishes, and arrange and garnish them. In the middle of the night in the kitchen, stop for a few seconds in the dark and just savor the magic in the scent of peaches.