January 1, 2017. 8:10 a.m. Horton’s drive through – on the way to visit my mom with coffee and her favourite donut (old fashioned plain). “We don’t have that donut. We have no donuts – we just opened.” (The website for this location noted their holiday hours and said they were open 24 hours.) And so 2017 begins by not meeting expectations – and expectations apparently have something to do with “happiness”. (More on that in a moment.)
Happy New Year??
Well at least it’s a “new” year. I was among those happy to see the end of last year. By now you’re likely tired of the moaning over 2016 so I will aim to focus more on looking forward, but… must admit that “pooping” on 2016 was a bit cathartic.
I first became aware of the “f*ck2016” hashtag on the John Oliver Show that aired about a week after the US election.
Since then, that hashtag theme was (over)used by every imaginable media source – some trying to counter-balance the excruciatingly painful happenings of last year by inviting people to share positive things about 2016.
I do buy-in to the idea of "gratitude journals” – though I don’t record my lists. A frequent insomniac, I sometimes try to lull myself to sleep with gratitude lists. Professionals advise thinking of at least three things. My lists can be much longer. If they begin with “I slept through the (last) night” that’s already a good day. I can make the list long-ish by identifying every little micro event of the day – a perfect cup of coffee made by Mr. KB, stoplights synchronized to green, finding the sweater I want to wear, hearing from a loved one, a great meal... I remain convinced that the gratitude focus is a good idea, but – and perhaps this is my own failing – the list is not always effective in determining the overall rating for the day / week / month / year.
For 2016, the death toll of notables in the arts alone lasted almost 20 minutes (CBC Lives Lived) – even though most names got only a few seconds airplay. The compilation aired on December 28 – and did not include Debbie Reynolds who died hours earlier. With three days left in 2016 – what more could happen? A “GoFundMe” campaign was begun to protect 94 year old Betty White from the curse of 2016. She made it through!
More importantly, we cannot ignore the (non-celebrity) strife experienced by humans all over the planet.
The planet. Brings to mind the UN. Did you know they publish a United Nations World Happiness Report? Some years ago they declared that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,” and designated March 20 as World Happiness Day.
So there you go! Be happy in 2017! – especially on March 20. (Although, before then we have to get through Blue Monday – January 16 - apparently the saddest day of the year - though that claim was part of a travel marketing campaign - haha!)
As promised, a word about the role of expectations. Some experts - most notably the psychologist Martin Seligman - postulate that there is a "happiness equation". (Not to be confused with the book by the same name, written by Neil Pasricha from “Book of Awesome” fame.)
I’ll take a pass on offering a synopsis, and dissecting the related debates. In brief, the idea is that happiness (or unhappiness) exists in the zone where reality collides with expectations. It must be said that drawing the conclusion that “low or no expectations is the key to happiness” is incorrect and unintended.
"The strategy with the best promise for enhancing happiness is one that has little to do with managing expectations. Rather, it has everything to do with how one responds after a 'below expectations' event has occurred. This strategy involves spending as little time as possible ruminating about the negative consequences triggered by the 'below expectations' event." (Source)
Similarly another writer urges us to "…not be in the story of how it should have been. But to live in deep acceptance with how it is. I think the only time we can really be unhappy is when the way we think it should be and the way it is are different. So keep finding the ways that 'the way life is right now' is full, and full of joy…” (Source)
Since this is a food (not philosophy or psychology) blog let me note that the difference between “what is” and “what is hoped for” – aka happiness – is front and centre whenever I’m in the kitchen. This Christmas I tried old family recipes. A few are still not quite right - the beigli - aka walnut roll. Yet others turned out great - my mom’s liver stuffing and creamed peas, for example – which I’ll add to the blog soon! [Update: here's the recipe for Hungarian Liver Stuffing.]
I scold myself for being a bit discouraged when my attempts to resurrect old family recipes are not optimal. Ridiculous to imagine first time will be perfect. One day soon, I’ll share my experience making macarons, under the tutelage of Mardi Michels. On her blog and in her course, she talks about how she worked on her macaron recipe, sometimes weekly, for several years!
So in 2017, I will aim to be “Zen”, “in the moment” and will make sure I feed the right wolf.
"One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that was going on inside himself. He said, 'My son, it is between 2 wolves. One is evil: Anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego... The other is good: Joy, peace, love, forgiveness, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith...' The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, 'Which wolf wins?' The old Cherokee simply replied, 'The one I feed.'" (About)
Ok 2017 – bring it on…
P.S. Here's a recipe that is guaranteed to meet expectations and make you happy - Hungarian Cabbage Soup - I think I might declare this to be the year of the cabbage! [Update: Better late than never, I have declared 2018 to be my "Year of the Cabbage" and several blogging friends have joined me on this project. For Janaury 2018, my first cabbage recipe is Hungarian Cabbage Rolls.]
P.P.S. Don't you think that life is better with a soundtrack? My absolute favourite group is Pink Martini and their "Get Happy" album is my driving soundtrack. I especially like the "Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy" duet done by China Forbes and Rufus Wainwright. Hard to find a good video of that (so buy the CD!), but I was astonished to learn that the original duet was done by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. Listen and be "mellow happy". (Advance to 1:09 to get right to the song.)
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[This time last year... Backward and Forward]