Steven Heller | Essays

Happiness Is The Little Things

This past Sunday, The New York Times published a special section devoted to “14 Weird and Delightful Ways We’re Getting Through These Terrible Times and Even Finding Some JOY.”

It was as though someone at the newspaper was reading my mind and pilfered an idea I’ve been mulling for the past month! Still, my idea is, although similar in spirit, different in content from theirs — well some content. On both are lists are “The Joy of Circling the Block” and “The Joy of Deleting My Many Mediocre Photos” (which I have since eliminated from my list lest I appear to copy them). Nonetheless it is the same basic idea, but I’m going to publish mine in any case because I hate for any idea go to waste. Moreover, rather than 14, I came up with 15. And rather than 14 different writers, these are all by me. And, they are generally shorter. And rather than “the joy of,” I call mine “happiness is” (thanks to Peanuts).

One: Happiness is missing meetings and blaming it on a Zoom error. While most times Zoom invitations work just fine, occasionally I do not want to attend a meeting and have a terrific excuse. If it isn’t a befouled Zoom address I use the old standby the “internet connection is unstable” excuse.

Two: Happiness is not having to go to certain “necessary” but annoying appointments because of the social distancing and self-quarantine gambit. When my first 14 days were up, I came up with a reason for another and then another. And then, of course, I can’t take the subway because I am in the “at risk” category.

Three: Happiness is not having to ever leave the apartment for groceries. I suppose this could be imposed at any time but it would be an unnecessary extravagance in normal times. The fact is I like the anticipation of deliveries from food stores and restaurants. And at least during this time, I can justify ordering stuff from the evil Amazon empire. It is an inconvenience to make sure everything is germ-free, but it is worth not having to spend time in Fairway even though it is only a couple of blocks away (and remember I am in the “at risk” category).

Four: Happiness is losing weight (as long as it is not related to an illness). Ever since I’ve been in lock-down and lock-up and locked-away, especially on weekdays while enduring the stress of the last months of school (which was not happiness at all), I’ve lost my usually voracious appetite. Ten pounds and one extra belt hole later, I’m back to my old wrestling team weight.

Five: Happiness is not wearing pants. I’m sure you’ve heard this one a lot. But I’ve worn the same pair for 10 weeks mostly because when I do wear them, I don’t go anywhere and since I don’t go anywhere, I don’t usually wear pants. Moreover, my local cleaning service has been shut, which has saved on cleaning bills as well. Let’s not talk about underwear.

Six: Happiness is indulging in Nazi-era detective books, including Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther Mysteries, celebrity biographies, including “Name Above the Title” by Frank Capra (particularly his section on anti-Nazi movies), and History, including “Culture in Nazi Germany” by Michael H. Cater. I read a book a week, and while I may not get much physical exercise, my brain is working intermittently.

Seven: Happiness is not watching TV news. Why bother, its so predictable. Reading the news is a harder habit to break, but I try to limit that to the very skimpy arts and real estate sections.

Eight: Happiness is not feeling guilty that I’ve missed out on design-oriented events, talks and exhibition openings (including ones I’m involved in) a few of which I might have voluntarily missed anyway, but now I don’t have to make excuses because everything has been cancelled.

Nine: Happiness is awaking at 4:30 – 5:00 AM, and after a moment of disorientation realizing that going to work is simply a matter of getting out of bed and walking to the computer room, I go back to sleep. It is even better waking at that time or later on Saturday or Sunday and realizing I don’t have to get up at all, except to play the NY Times “Spelling Bee.”

Ten: Happiness is realizing that despite a workaholic urge-surge in the morning between 9-12, I don’t need to beat up on myself for just sitting around reading Nazi-era detective stories, no one is waiting for me to finish anything on a drop-dead tight deadline.

Eleven: Happiness is the ability to ignore, if only for a day, requests from designers and design students for wisdom, advice and counsel, which I’m not certain I’m equipped to give with any sort of authority or certainty any longer, anyway.

Twelve: Happiness is being able to say on Monday and Tuesday (and sometimes Wednesday) that I have Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to finish writing something that should be done on the few imposed deadlines I do still have on Saturday or Sunday.

Thirteen: Happiness is being able to not worry about my sense of relevance or irrelevance as a design writer and pundit because who cares about design writing and punditry at this time? Yet I always manage to worry that it does not matter whether anyone cares as long as I do, then I get all nervous and anxious and worried that I have no certainty any longer, anyway — which negates the happiness (a vicious cycle of over-thinking).

Fourteen: Happiness is coming up with a good idea for a project that has relevance for the fields of design and design education, then realizing I don’t have the ability to carry through any of these things locked up in my apartment, unable to work without any of my trusted colleagues, except over Zoom, which often goes haywire because of my unstable internet connection.

Fifteen: Happiness is going to bed at midnight after reading and actually (I have chronic insomnia) falling asleep. This, however, is contingent on various factors, including the unhappiness of feeling trapped in my apartment, having little hope that this pandemic will ever end, that life as we have known it is over, and all the other anxiety producing fears, trepidations and terrors that punctuate my otherwise daily happiness.

The fact is: Nothing about this entire pandemic-shitfest brings me joy or happiness!!!

Jobs | July 17