One beautiful day in late April during my senior of high school I made a plan with my friend Mark. During our next period we would ask our teachers if, considering how nice the weather was, we could go play frisbee for half an hour. While this line of argument did somehow spring him from French class, I was not so lucky. My chemistry teacher patiently listened to my argument, then drily said, “Ah, you’re one of those guys who thinks if it tastes good it’s good for you.”
I’m not sure if it’s a universal human tendency or a lingering remnant of America’s puritanical origins, but most people I know, myself very much included, assume precisely the opposite. Anything that is good, I reflexively believe, must be at least a little unpleasant, and anything pleasant must be at least a little bad. This is undeniably true in some cases. There are good but unpleasant things, like dental visits, which must be undertaken with gritted (but not too gritted) teeth. Their are pleasant but not great things that should be avoided or minimized, like eating a quart of strawberry ice cream in a sitting. The problem with buying into a strict dichotomy is that it tends to devalue things that can be both good and enjoyable, such as coffee.
Longtime readers of the blog will know that I have strong opinions about the what and why of coffee, but here I’m thinking of it in the context of my life. Not every morning, but most mornings, I take fifteen minutes to brew a cup and drink it while writing in my journal. I can imagine no more pleasant way to start my day, but I also find it useful. Journaling both calms and sharpens my mind, and the steady pace of writing with pen on paper, punctuated with sips from my favorite mug, makes the coming day manageable.
It’s a commonplace ritual in that coffee without journaling isn’t the same and journaling without coffee is almost a chore, while the two together, early in the morning, put my life in order. Journaling clears my mind, while the coffee, since it tastes really good, invites me to pause and appreciate it.
I won’t claim drinking coffee is a perfect analogue for meditation, but both consistently put me in a deliberate frame of mind. And unlike meditating, I look forward to my morning routine. I don’t have to try to will myself to do it out of a sense of obligation or knowledge that I’ll feel better for the effort. I like the thing for itself, and the fact that it has a lasting, salutary effect makes it all the better.
Whether you share my love of coffee in particular, I think there’s a broader lesson here. Take reading. There are incredible books that end up being a bit of a slog, and incredible books that fly past. If you aspire to read more, particularly if you aim to replace time on your phone with time in a book, shamelessly seek out the latter. I wonder how much of what we ascribe to willpower can actually be explained by different preferences. Clearly, some maniacs out there actually enjoy the feeling of running long distances. This week a friend was describing the pure joy of being immersed in physics problems for hours on end. I can’t relate!
Not everything that tastes good is good for you. But some things are, and breaking down the dichotomy strikes me as healthy.