My girlfriend is generally better than I am at being in the moment and expressing gratitude for all the little things in life. Except maybe with pizza. Last Friday night, we sat across from each other in a warmly lit Denver restaurant, while in between giant bites of Detroit-style pizza, I repeated, “I. Fucking. Love. Pizza.”
I was able to sustain conversation throughout the meal, but mostly sat rapt with ecstasy, anything anyone near me said playing over a background track of my own voice repeating I Love Pizza in my head. Then I texted a photo of my plate to Jason, the only other person I know who shares my excitement for Detroit-style pizza.
According to the old saying, we should stop and smell the roses every once in a while, to pause and take in something good, and recognize it’s good. I’m trying to do more of that lately, and I don’t know if the 21st-century version of stopping and smelling the roses is profane proclamations of our love for a certain food and cell-phone photos sent instantly to friends three states away, but it seems like a good start to me.
A couple months ago, I interviewed James Campbell and Rachel Goldfarb for a story about how couples who live on the road together make it work. When I asked them if they had any secrets to getting along while living long-term in a tiny VW bus, Rachel said,
“We always end our day by asking each other, ‘What made you happiest today?’ Which has been a really great practice because then we’re always conscious of the things that bring us joy, and we try to do those things the most often.”
That’s a very simple thing: stopping once a day to ask the person next to you what made them happy, and in return telling them (and yourself) what made you happy. But most of us probably fail to do it. And once a day isn’t very often when you think about all the little miracles we really have in life (pizza, phones that play music, bicycles, people who will make us an Americano for a couple dollars, the ability to make a video phone call to someone halfway around the world).
So why don’t we do it? Plenty of us probably feel like we’re on a treadmill, running toward happiness, but never quite getting there. As actor and writer Jason Segel said in his interview with Marc Maron this summer:
“Where do you place your value? And what is going to address this itch that we keep trying to scratch that’s telling us we’re not there, that we’re not enough? If it’s success, you’ll never be successful enough, and if it’s money, you’ll never have enough money, and if it’s talent, you’ll never be adored enough. You have to find something else.”
Segel, who was talking about the theme of his movie The End of the Tour, is also scientifically correct.
There are several studies showing gratitude makes us happier, as well as more healthy: A couple 15-second reads here and here, for example, and a longer read here. They all seem to point to the same thing: if you’re not happy, it might be because you don’t realize you could be (and should be) happy.
A couple techniques (mentioned in the previous links) are to keep a “gratitude journal” in which you write down five things you’re grateful for over the span of a few weeks, or to write a “gratitude letter” to someone you haven’t thanked before, or to imagine your life without certain positive things, like meeting your husband, wife, or good friend.
Another one, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, comes from the legendary Kurt Vonnegut, who said in a 2003 speech,
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
Or, if you’d like, “I Fucking Love Pizza.” Or whatever it is you’re grateful for.
More stories like this in my new book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, out now.