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The Gift Year

I’ve taken to calling this “The Gift Year.” As weird and stressful as it all is, I find myself with more time than usual to reflect, dream, learn, read, and think about what I want to do in my life going forward. I started this pandemic like everyone did—mad, scared, confused, disconnected, and disjointed. I stumbled from one activity to another, made a lot of lists and plans and resolutions and then failed at most of them. Or, I gave them up because they seemed ridiculous in the face of everything else we have been facing. And then a strange thing happened.

All of a sudden, I found that I had fallen into a routine. My days didn’t feel like they did when I was in the office working, but they started to feel like something. I was doing lots of work, but I was also reading some books I liked, running more regularly, doing a little writing every day, and sleeping better. When I quit fighting it, I found myself feeling more comfortable. One thing that helped was an online class I took through Coursera. The class, called “The Science of Well-Being,” is taught by Laurie Santos, a Yale professor and the host of the podcast “The Happiness Lab.” In the course, Santos talks about how the things we think are going to make us happy, like earning a lot of money, rarely do in the long run. We tend to feel better overall, she says, if we focus on things like movement, sleep, meditation, connection, gratitude, and what she calls savoring. I didn’t know it at the time—when I was still regularly yelling and pouting about not being able to have control over my regular life—but her use of the word savoring might have been the thing that helped me shift.

It’s hard to hate your life when it contains a beautiful yellow lab and something really

great to read.

She describes "savoring" as that activity we engage in when we’re in the middle of something—a really great meal, a conversation with friends, a leisurely walk—and we step out of it for a moment to truly appreciate it. She talks about how this makes us remember that we have lots of things in our lives that make us happy all day every day. I kind of didn’t want to believe this at first, keeping it in the category of “activities of people who have more time on their hands than I do.” But when I was petting my dog Nugget the next morning while I was sitting in bed reading The New York Times and drinking a cup of strong coffee, I stopped for a minute to appreciate this really sweet moment. Of course, Santos was right. It’s hard to hate your life when it contains a beautiful yellow lab and something really great to read.

Every time I thought of savoring after that, I thought of Nugget and of creativity and the deliciousness of that first cup of coffee. Then I realized that doing this also slowed me down—that thing I said I didn’t have time to do. But where was I going? Instead of making me late for something, it made a soft, sweet foundation for the rest of the day. It put me in a better mood and it set the tone for the next thing I had to do.

I’m not an expert at savoring yet, but I’m trying to make it a regular part of my life. I still have to remind myself to savor what I can in a long Zoom meeting, but it’s actually not that hard to find something. I love so many of my co-workers and, even though I don’t get to see them in real life right now, I can still appreciate their humor, their side notes to me in the Zoom chat, their great ideas for improving the college, and their deep, deep commitment to students. Look at me—savoring Zoom!

I absolutely don’t want to go on record as loving the pandemic. Never in a million years did I think in March that I would say three and a half months later that I have been gifted with more time to learn and grow. But in a crazy way, it's true. And part of this change has been learning to savor the parts of my life that are real, and good, and lovely.

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