Simple pleasures

For me the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a re-evaluation of life’s big questions. One of my discoveries is how the simple pleasures contribute to my quality of life. Here are the little things that have come to mean a lot to me:

The Wallace family play a card game sitting around a wooden table in their kitchen.
Laughter around the table is a simple pleasure that happens frequently when we play a family game.

Cup of coffee. I drink coffee twice a day. I have a cup when I first get up in the morning, and I have another cup around 3 in the afternoon. I drink coffee black with the rare exception of adding a flavored creamer to a cup of decaf on winter nights. I joke that I drink coffee for its medicinal effects rather than the taste, but the fact is, I have come to appreciate strong, smooth coffee. I like it hot, not warm and never iced. The experience is best when it’s quiet, and my brain sparks to life as the warmth of each sip washes over me.

Hot shower. I confess: I take long showers. When the weather is cold, I take even longer showers. Even if my skin is pruning, and I risk being late for work, it’s harder to get out when the temperature differential is greater than 10 degrees. Our house has a tankless hot water heater, and for the first time in my life, I can take a 20-minute shower without running out of hot water. It is a luxury I enjoy. When I have to cut my shower short, it’s an inconvenience that influences my mood negatively, as much as I hate to admit it. Relaxation and deep thoughts make the hot shower a daily ritual that contributes to my well-being.

A nap. I function best on eight hours of sleep. I rarely get seven. My best compensation is a 15- to 20-minute power nap, which I typically only get on weekends. If office culture every changed to embrace a post-lunch quick snooze, I’d be great. Instead, I rely on that afternoon cup of coffee to get me through the workday. It’s a great feeling to wake up refreshed after just a few minutes of sleep, and I am never tempted to stretch a nap. Those longer naps interfere with my night’s sleep and disrupt my circadian rhythm. I nap best reclining rather than prone, and I enjoy being able to nap warmed by the sun.

Going for a run/walk. In my heyday, I ran 6 miles five days a week with a long run one day a week. I was out the door by 5:30, and taking the 45-50 minutes before my day started felt essential rather than extravagant. Over time, injuries and aging forced me to alter my routine. I ran every other day and mixed in cross training and strength training. Various injuries since turning 40 like plantar fasciitis and hip flexor pain prompted prolonged layoffs, but I was eventually able to resume running. Two years ago, though, was the permanent end to my running for fitness. Knee pain from March to July sent me to the orthopedist, and an October diagnosis of a meniscus tear was finally cured with arthroscopic surgery in November. When I fully recovered, I wasn’t able to hit the roads with the same speed and endurance. I eased back into walking, which includes a two-mile walk on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and a five-mile walk on Saturdays. I it less exertion but it still helps me clear my head. The slower pace has the added benefit of helping me notice more about my surroundings and conditions. I see and appreciate the sunrise, feel the breeze and smell the honeysuckle. I have learned not to take pain-free movement for granted, and the mental and emotional aspects outweigh the cardiovascular benefits now that I’m over 50.

Conversation with Carla. Having an uninterrupted conversation with my wife was one of the most elusive activities during the lock-down phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. We spent more time at home and around each other than ever before, but so did everyone else in our house. This deprivation illuminated just how much I value and enjoy our talks, no matter the topic. Whether it’s planning the next household project, dreaming of the next vacation, working through our worries for our boys or planning for our future, these dialogues fuel our relationship in a way that draws us closer and connects us. They tend to happen when we’re on a date at a restaurant or on the balcony of the beach condo on vacation. Getting away was difficult under quarantine, but it showed me the acuteness of my need for it. I am my best self when I’m grounded in my relationship with Carla.

Laughter around my table. The best antidote to the pressures of life is the tension release brought on by laughter. When bickering is replaced by heartfelt laughter, all is right with my world. No matter who induces it, laughter injects my spirit with a hopeful enthusiasm. It gives me perspective. It helps me see the blessings rather than the challenges. It washes the negativity out of my system and clears the air in the relationships in our household. I find that humor gets harder with age. I’ve heard it all at this point, and I’m harder to impress. Refining the comical helps me appreciate the deep, authentic laugh more and makes its effect on my mood more dramatic. Laughter is truly the best medicine for keeping my family positive and supportive of each other.

There are many other moments that bring me joy, but these are the simple pleasures I find most meaningful at this stage. If I have these in my life, I am truly blessed.

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