Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Pursuit of Happiness ...

Cilantro is a staple in my garden. I grow a lot of it. It's a good thing, too, because I love cilantro. I love the scent of cilantro, I love the taste, I love harvesting it when it's grown into a healthy little bush, feeling its feathery little leaves and juicy little stems. I even love seeing it grow from its tiny first leaves into that healthy little bush. It grows very quickly, too. I bet, if all else was quiet around the healthy little cilantro bush, I might be able to hear it as it grows and stretches its stems and forms new leaves. In my honest opinion, cilantro is a feast for the senses.

​That saying is fun, "a feast for the senses." It brings to mind something I recently learned about happiness. I learned that one of the ways to enjoy happiness is to know how to savor. How to savor what? Anything, really--moments, people, places, foods--the list goes on. Savoring anything involves your senses. It is an act we do spontaneously when we are engaged in something giving us joy or happiness. It is experiencing positive feelings while simultaneously and spontaneously focusing awareness on those feelings. Savoring entails deliberately focusing our attention on what we are doing and bringing the whole experience into awareness as it is happening with as many of the senses as possible. Cilantro is one of those experiences that cover all the bases for me.  I savor cilantro, everything about it, and it makes me happy. But it's not the only thing. 

My daughter recently texted me a picture of her first loaf of homemade whole wheat bread. The picture of this loaf of bread made my mouth start to water, it looked so good. I texted her back and told her that it looked so good, I could almost smell it. Isn't it funny how we are able to do that, almost taste or smell something just by looking at a picture? I was able to do this because I have savored warm, fresh baked bread in the past. I know what it smells like, I know what it looks like, and I know what it tastes like. I even know what it feels like and what it sounds like as I slice it. I have savored the goodness of warm, fresh baked bread using all my senses, and I have enjoyed the experience so much, I remember it. 

Using our senses and taking time to savor something causes a moment of happiness to happen in our brains, and we don't usually forget that feeling of happiness, at least our brains don't. Our brains play a key role in helping us with our senses and leading us to happiness. And after all, what is our purpose in life if it isn't to be happy?

What about someone who is hearing or vision impaired? It is well known that the other senses become heightened if one of the senses is impaired. Beethoven was practically deaf by the time he was 44, but because he knew the joy and the happiness he felt in making his music before he lost his hearing, he continued to write music and play his piano by using his sense of sight, touch, and his imagination. Beethoven savored the music he created with his sense of hearing before losing it, as well as his sense of touch. He was able to use his mind after losing his hearing, because he knew what his music sounded like and what it felt like creating the beautiful music at his piano. Beethoven, using his other senses of sight and touch, as well as his mind and imagination, wrote Moonlight Sonata, the opera Fedelio, and six symphonies, all without his sense of hearing. He knew the happiness he felt making his music, and his other senses filled-in for his lack of hearing.

I've always been fascinated with our five senses. I can remember learning about them all the way back in kindergarten, and I must have always been a word person, because I also remember learning the word "senses" and its definition. The word and its meaning have always stuck with me. I remember being fascinated that there was a word that described what my eyes, ears, nose tongue, and fingers did. They sensed things; they perceived things outside of myself. They helped me understand the world around me.

The word “savor” has become a word I enjoy because of learning a deeper meaning of it. Understanding anything that brings happiness into my life is always good. Without knowing it, I have been savoring moments with my senses for a very long time. In fact, the first nine months of my life was the foundation of savoring a moment using my senses. 

Our senses come predisposed, it seems, to embrace happiness. It's truly amazing how we are wired from the first day of our lives. We come into this world from first being safely wrapped and cuddled within our mother's womb. We are allowed unknowingly to savor this feeling for nine months. Our brain is developing, and slowly, our first sense is being formed. This first sense slowly forming and being savored by our forming brain may likely be the most important sense we have throughout the rest of our lives: The sense of touch. Some may disagree and believe that sight, sound, smell, or taste is more important. But the sense of touch is what connects us to each other. The warmth we feel, what our brain is savoring are the first feelings of happiness, being safely wrapped in our mother's womb. This feeling will follow us throughout our lives each time we give someone a hug. When we wrap our arms around another we love, it conjures that happy feeling formed in our earliest moments, and our brain likes that. 

The other four senses follow suit. The foundations are formed when we are very young, and our brain locks onto the moments of happiness. This is why we are not able to look away from a beautiful sunset. If you have a sweet tooth, it's probably because we are all born preferring the sweet flavor of foods to anything else. Because our sense of smell and taste are somewhat intertwined, we also prefer sweet scents to anything other. Why do we enjoy petting our cats or our dogs? Because it's been proven that when we touch soft things, it calms our minds.  
Have you ever watched a toddler wiggle when they hear music? We are born to love music and rhythm. It literally moves us, and our wiggles follow us into our adulthood, and we dance. Perhaps the joy we find in music is planted first by hearing our mother’s heartbeat. It was our first sound, the first rhythm we heard, and was savored by our brains for nine months, planting seeds of happiness.

In the pursuit of happiness, I think we should follow our senses. We should let them lead us to what ultimately brings us joy. Maybe that’s by growing cilantro, or writing symphonies. It could be visiting museums and gazing at beautiful paintings. Maybe it is bringing life back to neglected furniture, or even baking the perfect loaf of whole wheat bread. Whatever it is, we must let our senses lead us.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy being in my garden. Growing anything really, not only cilantro, is a feast for my senses. My eyes take in the new seedlings of tomato plants, onions, cilantro, and of course the sunflowers that bloom where they are (not always) planted. I hear the sounds of the birds, voices of neighbor children, and the breeze in the trees. I smell the earthy scent of the soil I’m working in. I feel the soil with my hands, digging in it, allowing it to fall between my fingers. I nibble the strawberries as soon as they are ripe, straight out of the garden. Gardening is a feast for my senses because I have savored every moment and every aspect of it. It brings me happiness. 

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