“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
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I came across this article yesterday that reported the findings of a study showing that “[o]nly 10% of consumers now love to cook, while 45% hate it and 45% are lukewarm about it.” The 10% number surprised me, as many people in my social circle cook most of their meals and seem to enjoy making their own food. I’ll admit that I tend to fall into the lukewarm category, though it’s more accurate to say that my desire to cook ebbs and flows.
I know that cooking my own meals is generally healthier and more cost-effective than eating at restaurants. Cooking can be a lot more satisfying, too. I don’t live in a big city with an endless number of restaurants, and sometimes I’m just not that excited about my options for eating out. On occasions when I want a specific dish, my chances of satisfying the craving are sometimes better if I make the dish myself rather than trying to find the precise offering at a local restaurant. I also imagine that for families with kids and hectic schedules, eating at home is probably easier than going to a restaurant.
This week, Hidden Brain, one of my favorite podcasts-slash-public-radio-programs, explored the topic of regret with a researcher and head of an academic “regret lab.” The program discussed the various positive and negative consequences of regret.
I think I’ve reached a point in my life when I’m able to put most of my regrets to rest. Yes, there are opportunities I missed, chances I wish I’d taken, different paths I could have chosen, and times I acted selfishly or treated others poorly. The last category is, of course, the hardest to get over, because it’s regret combined with guilt. But we can’t undo what we’ve done in the past, and at some point we have to forgive ourselves and commit to behaving better in the future, now that we know better.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Akrotiri archaeological site on Santorini island in Greece, along with a couple of museums housing works of art discovered at the site. Observing items that were created thousands of years before the common era led me to think about humans’ desire to make art. The pieces on display were not limited to pottery designed to hold water and foodstuffs, nor to religious symbols. There were elaborate wall paintings and meticulously crafted sculptures of animals and human figures. Like other artists throughout history, these people of the distant past devoted time and scarce resources to producing beautiful objects that served no obvious utilitarian purpose. Our drive to make things that we don’t really need is unique to humans and appears to be deeply ingrained. Why do we do it?
As my mom will tell you, I’ve never very been good at relaxing. Since about sixth grade, I’ve been involved in all sorts of things. As an adult, you will rarely find me sitting down when I’m at home. I tend to spend my evenings and weekends working out, doing yard work, doing laundry or other chores around the house, attending a meeting or event, visiting friends, or working on some kind of project. I pretty much never sit in front of a television, and my relaxation time is usually scheduled (e.g., yoga class, meditation group, occasional massage or mani/pedi).
Tracking time is one of the most universally disliked aspects of private law practice. I don’t think I’ve ever met an attorney who liked having to log every client-related task in six- or fifteen- minute increments. Tracking and recording your time is a pain. But it does have its benefits, aside from being able to bill your clients for the work you’ve performed.
When I first left private practice and no longer had to keep daily time sheets, I noticed that I became less productive. I chatted with coworkers more and took longer lunches. I spent more time on projects. These things are not all bad, but I realized at some point that I wasn’t checking items off my to-do list as often as I’d like, and I felt like I was losing momentum.
“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” -Confucius
My second life began when I was twenty-six. I at once became keenly aware of how short life is, how it can end suddenly, how none of us is promised tomorrow. This realization was not triggered by a near-death experience or the loss of someone close to me. It came about in the aftermath of divorce, while struggling to build a life for myself and to sculpt an identity. It arose during months of counseling sessions, self-reflection, trying to lift myself out of the hole of depression. I read the words of Eckhart Tolle, echoing the sentiments of the Buddha and other wise people over the millennia: “the present moment is all you have.”
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I’ve cut back on the amount of time I spend scrolling through social media feeds and reading articles online in order to free up more time for writing in the mornings and evenings. I’m also attempting to replace mindless phone-checking throughout the day with other more meaningful tasks — things like mindful breathing, short bursts of physical activity, and reading books. My overarching goal is to use my time more deliberately instead of impulsively reacting to whatever is aiming to capture my attention. Time, after all, is a scarce and non-renewable resource. To riff off Annie Dillard, how we spend our minutes is how we spend our hours, how we spend our hours is how we spend our days, and how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.