There are moments that I try to hold onto as long as I can while I’m in them, moments I still ponder with deep gratitude. I’m thinking of the feeling I get when I stand on a cliff, high above a sparkling sea with the land behind me expansive and green in a way only Ireland can be — a leap of the heart and a sudden intake of breath, a sheer delight and wonder at the world around me. I’ve felt it, too, standing below a snow-covered castle in the German mountains, or in St. Peter’s square with the statues on the top of the basilica outlined in clear blue on Easter morning.
This summer, I began an experiment to find this same wonder and gratitude in my everyday life through the practice of savoring. For 10 days, I would aim to focus on a moment of joy each day and pay attention to it. I would sit with the moment perhaps longer than I was used to, and attempt to discover why it brought me the happiness it did. I did not think of any moment ahead of time, although I had my guesses as to what might emerge as a moment to savor each day. Whenever I first noticed a movement of joy in my heart, that would be the moment I savored.
On the day I began the experiment, I thought again of those transcendental moments I had in Ireland and Germany and Rome, and how unlikely it was I would encounter anything like them soon. The escalation of the pandemic forced me to abruptly cut short my year in Ireland and leave all its natural beauty behind for home with my family in an Indiana suburb. Cliffs or even rolling hills are in short supply in Indiana and I have remained largely confined in my house.
Still, I set out to make the best of the situation — to find beauty around me and pay attention to it. I expected my best chance of finding something to savor would be on my walks around the neighborhood to notice the flowers blooming, or perhaps one of the delicious meals my dad has been cooking during quarantine.
And then I was surprised by that feeling — that leap of my heart moved by delight. Only, it wasn’t while I was walking by a particularly colorful garden or eating a good meal. I was cleaning the stove, a task that I used to avoid when cleaning the kitchen because it took more effort to clean around the stove plates where the dried food is crusted. Normally I would shrug and let the moment pass by, but in the spirit of savoring, I honed in on it instead and tried to understand why I was having a sudden movement of joy connected to cleaning the stove.
I realized that it was not the act of cleaning the stove in isolation that had so moved me. My parents were joking about something nearby. The sun shone in the kitchen window. There was a cheerful song coming through my headphones. And I was home with the time to spend scrubbing a stove. Simple.
Still, throughout this experiment, I expected to be moved by moments that fit in with my previous experiences that were grand and sublime. Instead, the next day I once again felt a sudden delight in the kitchen. This time, I was washing my bowl after lunch and found myself suddenly charmed by the way the water mixed with the tomato and oil of my pasta sauce and gathered the sunlight falling on it from the window.
Really? Here? I thought. How can I be having the same feeling here looking at this reddish water as I’ve had staring at the sea in Ireland? Yet despite my disbelief, I knew it was the same feeling, and I made an effort to pay attention to every detail and hold onto the moment just as I had on seemingly more momentous occasions.
In the days that followed, I found myself moved to savor similarly unexpected experiences: the particular inflection my younger brother has on the word “important,” or a favorite song coming on while brushing my teeth. It’s not that I wasn’t also enjoying the spring unfolding around me when I went on my walks, or the excellent meals my dad continued to serve up — but these were joys I had learned to savor before. In my commitment to intentionally savoring something each day, I was drawn to notice and delight in the most mundane parts of my life at home.
Over time, I discovered that the effect was cumulative. Now, every time I clean the stove or hear my brother say “important,” it brings a smile to my face as I remember that first unexpected moment when I realized how grateful I am for these things.
Although I’ve left Ireland behind and the prospect is slim for visiting Germany, Rome, or other more spectacular sights anytime soon, the practice of savoring has allowed me to see that there is still a wealth of beauty around me to be enjoyed and remembered. With the future uncertain, being able to delight in the extraordinary ordinary joys at home is a gift. I hope that even as I am able to return to more obvious moments of beauty in the future, I continue to hold onto what I have learned here.