I'm kicking off 2023 by thinking about some things that don't need to change
Bedtimes in our house take a while these days.
There’s a long build-up to bedtime itself, of course—a carefully-choreographed dance of baths and pajamas and stories and one more show and I’m still hungry—but what really stretches the proceedings is when we reach the point where a kid is actually placed in their bed.
That’s when the filibusters begin.
My six-year-old daughter, who will typically have just spent the past several hours cheerful, happy and carefree, will suddenly darken, frowning and furrowing her brow as soon as she’s tucked into her big, cozy bed, surrounded by her small army of stuffed animals.
“But Daddy, what if I have a bad thought?”, she’ll ask, lower lip quivering.
“Don’t let the bad thoughts take over,” I’ll say, “Think about all the good things in life instead!”
Then, a few short hours later, I will go to bed myself and spend the next hour laying wide awake thinking about everything I’ve ever done wrong. Ah, well! Neverthless,
Even if I don’t always practice what I preach, though, I think what I preach in these situations is good practice.
I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about New Year’s resolutions this week, and for as much as I embrace making them, I have to concede that resolutions—even at their most positive and best-intentioned—are rooted in some form of criticism, in the notion that something is lacking or in need of change. What blooms from it might be wholly positive, but the seed is in negative thinking, the kind of thinking that keeps me staring at the ceiling long after my daughter has drifted off to sleep.
Well, today I’m going to try to do the opposite.
I’d like to start the new year on an upbeat note, and think about a few things that are good right now.
Since it’s 2023 now, I’ll choose 23 things that make me happy, however significant or insignificant they might be. Once that’s done, I’d love to hear some of yours, too.
23 Things That Are Good Right Now
1. Starting something to cook, then leaving the room just long enough for the smell to fully hit you as you re-enter
Even the most aromatic dish will lose some of its dramatic impact when you’ve been standing over it for hours. But when you set something to a low simmer, go out and walk the dog or take out the trash, and come back into the kitchen?
Whoo, buddy. Someone’s cooking something good in here!
2. Turning a hotel thermostat down to 62 degrees Fahrenheit
I don’t love traveling for business, something that I’ll be doing right at the time you read there. But there is one simple, nihilistic pleasure in the practice, and that’s turning your hotel room into a personal meat locker and burying yourself under the covers to watch a movie before falling asleep.
3. A dog making little noises while they sleep
Tiny, muffled woofs, perhaps accompanied by twitching paws?
Love it. Can’t get enough.
4. Paperback books
The vast majority of books that I consume these days are in digital form out of sheer convenience. I don’t have a ton of time to read for pleasure, so I’ll listen to audiobooks while commuting or working, or load something onto a device to read on a flight.
Those times where I get to pick up an actual book, though? Those are my favorites.
I was going to say I’m not going to be some weirdo praising the way books smell but then I realized that that is exactly who I am going to be here and that’s fine.
Paperbacks are the best, because they can stuff easily into a bag for whenever you need them, and they’re easy to bend and squeeze and read with one hand while laying in bed, without fear of dropping them on your head.
Not that I’ve ever done that.
5. Folding an omelet just right
To be clear, this is not something that I do often. For every one perfectly-shaped omelet that I make, there are another five “well, I guess it’s a frittata now” moments. Pulling it off just right—folding without breaking, fully cooking without burning—feels like sorcery when it actually happens.
6. Hitting the part of the song that you’ve been waiting for
Maybe it’s Phil Collins’ iconic drum break in “In The Air Tonight”, or maybe it’s Bruce Springsteen getting to the “highways jammed with broken heroes” part of “Born to Run”. Maybe it’s something else entirely, but there are few joys simpler than anticipating that moment for several minutes and then hitting it.
For me, this is the guitar riff that hits at 2:31 of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”, a song from an album that I used to listen to frequently on pre-dawn runs and would always feel like I’d hit a little rocket boost when that moment hit.
7. An extremely cold glass of water
I just tried this one! (New Year’s resolution, etc.)
Have you tried it? It’s really good!
8. Predicting something moments before it happens in a sporting event
“Ah, wouldn’t it be something if he threw a pick right now?”
[he throws a pick on the very next play]
I do not gamble on sports, but moments like this make me feel like I’d be very good at it. I would not, because no one is, but that’s negative talk. It’s fun to guess and be right.
9. Winging it in the kitchen and it actually working out
It’s great to work from a recipe that someone else has tested and re-tested and can assure you is going to work out right. (In fact, as someone who publishes recipes every week on a paid newsletter, I encourage it.) But those rare moments where you completely improvise something and it actually tastes good? Those are special.
Speaking of which, if you’re not a paying subscriber, you should consider becoming one. I share recipes every week! (Along with a bunch of other stuff that’s not food.) Three newsletters a week! Every week! Only $5/mo or $50/year! Join us!
10. A Far Side page-a-day calendar
My son got me one for Christmas, because I saw them at Costco in early December and told my wife “buy this and he can give it to me for Christmas”.
It makes me very happy.
11. A new pair of running shoes
This is verging dangerously close to New Year’s resolution territory, but hear me out. I recently bought a new pair of running shoes to replace my last pair, ones that were years past their glory days and completely broken down.
I did buy them with the intent of getting back to regular running and improving my physical fitness, but I can also appreciate them just for the snug, springy sense of possibility the deliver. I’m going to be so much better in these.
12. Receiving an actual piece of mail that someone you know sent
The Christmas cards have just come down from the fridge, but receiving every single one was a delight, a piece of mail sent on purpose by someone I know and not just a mass-mailer postcard asking if I am interested in selling my house. (I am not.)
Also most of these cards were pictures of kids and/or pets and they were all very cute.
13. Word games
Scrabble. Crossword puzzles. Wordle. The NYT Spelling Bee.
I need these things in my day.
14. Seeing cows while you’re driving
15. Waking up before your alarm clock with just enough time left to go back to sleep but not so much time that you’ve screwed up the prime sleep hours.
For me, this is 20 minutes before. (Your number may vary.)
I know that there are a lot of bad thoughts to be explored here in the environmental and political impacts of our agricultural systems, especially as they pertain to tropical fruits, but I still love them. They’re delicious, nutritious, portable, easy to eat with no mess, kids like them, and eight pounds of them costs like two bucks. Bananas!
17. Flipping channels (perhaps in that 62-degree hotel room?) and coming across the last half-hour of a movie you have already seen two dozen times
Ooh, it’s just getting to the good part!
It is remarkable that there is something as useful and fun on the internet as Wikipedia and it hasn’t yet been ruined by some vanity-drunk oligarch or growth-obsessed tech CEO.
If I’m eating a burrito and suddenly want to read about the history of burritos while I’m eating my burrito, I know right where to go.
19. The sound of rain at night
It is awfully bold of me to still think this when a clap of thunder that sounded extremely close woke me and my kids up at 2:30am the other night but you have to take the bad with the good and it is otherwise very relaxing. Besides, statistically speaking, one of them was going to wake me up anyways.
20. A fresh pad of Post-It Notes
My relationship with Post-It Notes is that of a crazy person. At any given time, I will have six to twenty stuck on my desk, and another handful stuck to the inside of my wallet, all reminding me of to-do tasks and shopping lists and half-formed ideas for future writings or recipes or simply bearing intricate doodles. A fresh pack is like powering up.
21. Closing a laptop for the night
22. Making kids laugh
It is very easy.
Kids, by merit of being relatively new people, have not heard most jokes. Generally speaking, they love puns. And, when all else fails, they love physical comedy. It is easy to make kids laugh.
It is also very rewarding! Kids are honest. They will not laugh to save your feelings. They will only laugh when something is funny to them, and when you’re funny to them, you’re basically a superhero.
23. A green shell in Mario Kart, perfectly deployed against a seven-year-old who’s frankly gotten a little too high on the horse about their driving skills lately and also has learned to trash-talk
Who’s laughing now, smart guy?
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Now, I want to hear from you. What makes you happy *now*?
In the past two weeks I have caught the back third of both Rookie of the Year (1993) and Little Big League (1994), an inseparable dramatic dyad in the micro-genre of “kid suddenly becomes responsible for a Major League Baseball team’s success”. When I watched these as an 11- and 12-year-old, I believed that Rookie of the Year was the superior film, but I now believe Little Big League to be far better. I’m as surprised as you are.
There has been an ongoing construction project by our house. Everyday for the last 6 months on the way to daycare, we stop briefly, roll down the window, and our 2-year old waves from his car seat. It makes his day. It seems to often make the workers’ day too. It’s delightful.
The beer you have while cooking a slightly over-elaborate dinner.
When young kids get words slightly wrong (My dress has stars, and moons, and compilations on it!)
Also for young kids: when they comment about someone in public (oh God) but it’s a compliment (thank God) — my son in Costco yesterday: “that lady’s hijab is SO SPARKLY and BEAUTIFUL!”
Also veering into resolution territory: slightly sore muscles that don’t really bother you, but remind you that you worked out recently.