I roll out of bed and drag myself to the coffee maker. Sometimes I’ve thought ahead, and there’s not fuel ready for me. Other days, I groggily scoop and fill and press start. Then I go to the bathroom, splash some water on my eyes, and head back to pour a cup (dotting with my dreamy fresh almond milk, of course). I take it on my walk with Mitra or head straight to my desk to work.
Every day. Every day.
But not today.
Today, I’m having my first cup at the shop around the corner, around other humans going about their own morning routines. I’m changing it up, just to see what happens. Because that’s what the final forty days of My Year of Abstinence are about.
At 7 AM, the streets are quiet as Mitra and I walked them. A few taxis dawdle, as they always dawdle since Riverside is a wide expanse of four lanes near enough to a few main thoroughfares. The sky is a bright blue and the air warmer than I expected for so early in the day.
At 7:15, the coffee shop is astonishingly empty and quiet. It’s usually bustling when I’m here, reading the Sunday paper or in for a random late day pick me up. There’s only one man at a table, absorbed in his coffee and papers. I chat with the two women behind the counter, my age or younger, smiling though at work so early. I take my Americano to the back — the only space designated for computers — and I sit.
As I work, preparing the post for this forty days, the occasional voice of a neighbor entering or exiting punctuates the music playing — Sam Cooke, and some cheesy 90s stuff I adore.
This early in the day, everyone smiles. Well, everyone except the already-frazzled parents who come in with children crying for the cinnamon buns and hot chocolate that they’re not given. Shuttled quickly off to school, commuters are eventually replaced by those coming in to sit. Tables slowly fill with friends poring together over magazines, more fingers typing near mine, and phones being lazily scrolled.
My Americano sits long empty. My computer battery drains almost dead. It’s time to go home.
This morning — this first ninety minutes around other humans — what has it brought me?
A new view of the morning light. The light in my neighborhood is warm and inviting and high, bouncing off the brick of the old buildings around me in the freedom of the wide streets. Through the coffee shop’s expansive windows I see the bright spring green of a tree — ash? — reflecting against the layers of tan and brown and gold, as buses pass and the doors open and shut. It’s a different view from my desk. Something new to take in. A slight shift in routine. A stimulation. Which, of course, is part of the point.
Smiles from strangers. My job is a lonely one, sometimes. I sit at home, and my work is judged, for better or worse, by people I rarely meet in the flesh. Dr. Sonja Lybomirsky’s studies point out that the 40% of happiness we can control has much to do with social interaction and community — the more connected we feel to others, the happier we are. I need more of that and, first thing this morning, I got more of that.
And as this Year’s Challenges are to be measured against three things:
The affect on my health: I am tired already, home at 9:45 AM and preparing to head downtown for a meeting. I’m not sure how I’ll get through my day, and social interactions — even mild ones — tend to wipe me out. So this can’t be a daily occurrence. But…
My social interactions: …I did love the early-morning scene at the coffee shop. The first thirty minutes had the feel of the neighborhood waking together. So if I anticipate a day of typing alone and feel that some social time would benefit, this is the time to go.
My sense of self: I am a highly social creature. And a high introverted one. Last night, I went to an event feeling extremely ill. I didn’t know anyone there. I did end up talking to people and had a nice time, but I would have been very happy sitting on one of the many couches reading a book — that was my mood. I wouldn’t have felt socially awkward doing so, but societal rules would have shunned such an action.
This morning, I’m reminded that both parts of me are okay. I didn’t initiate talk with people last night because I can’t or am afraid to. I didn’t really feel it. And it’s okay to not feel it, society be damned! And it’s also okay to make eye contact with strangers and chat up people in coffee shops, too. I am alright, as me. A highly social introvert.
Conclusions: Shaking up my morning felt active. This tiny change — having my coffee in a coffee shop rather than at home — shifted something small but significant. Part of it relates to the sense of awareness I’ve harped on much of this last year: that experiencing something is one thing, but “experiencing the experience” (as Gilbert says) leads to the awareness that makes things stick and causes change and, again, happiness.
So am I happy in this moment, right now? Yes.