Brewing Up Happiness: Not So Simple

As someone who has just finished an entire graduate program that teaches how” stuff” does not make us happy, I hate to make this confession. Contrary to everything positive psychology teaches, I’ve lusted for – and finally been seduced by – a single- serve coffeemaker.

Judging by the sea of coffee pods in every flavor and type that lines the wall of my favorite bed and bath store, I am not alone. No more grinding, measuring, hoping. Just pop a pod of pre-measured coffee, tea or cocoa into the coffeemaker (sorry, “home brewing system”), and even the most inept of us is good to go. And if you have dinner guests with varied tastes, voila! Pop in a pod for each. There is a flavor for every personality type, including Cowboy, Jet Fuel, and Jazzed Up.

Why the single-serve phenomenon has seized me, I cannot explain. I know for a fact – because I have read plenty of rambling studies – that circumstances like coffeemakers can account for at most 10 percent of our happiness. What’s more, relying on stuff for happiness can lead to a hedonic treadmill, where we want more and more and feel less and less satisfied. But still, the single-serve – in my case the Keurig – grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

I can only compare my steady journey from crush to obsession, to the time I became convinced I needed a pull-down ironing board that I saw in a catalog, even though I rarely, if ever, iron. The pattern was the same.

First, there was Stage One, or mild resistance

“You want this,” I told myself, “but you don’t really need it. Put the book away and see how you feel in 24 hours.”

Stage One ended quickly in both cases. With the ironing board, I picked the catalog back up the next day and immediately entered Stage Two, rationalization. No more piles of touch-up ironing on the washer. With the coffeemaker, the universe began to send only people with home brewing systems into my life. My friend Amy had one in her log cabin in Vermont. Bernae brewed custom coffee cup by cup for my book group.

Everyone had them. Why not me?

With that, it was just a tiny leap to Stage Three, the “I deserve” phase.

For “I deserve,” it’s important to think of at least one amazing thing or experience you haven’t had. My personal favorite is Hawaii. The ironing board/coffeemaker were the least I could do for myself since I had never been there.

“Ha!” I said. “A home brewing system/ironing board/fill-in-the-blank is nothing compared to that!”

By the time the hulking white box had been delivered from eBay (discount+free shipping = another guilt-reducer), I was ready to embrace a steaming cup of Green Mountain Hazelnut Dark Roast Extra Bold and pretend I was back at Amy’s cabin in Vermont.

But then my daughter’s boyfriend remarked that he had never been coffee-happier than since he acquired his new French press, and proceeded to demonstrate and offer a sample.

“Wow!” I said. “This is amazing,”

“Plus it’s economical,” he pointed out, and with disturbing ease, I found myself sliding into Stage One mild resistance against something I never knew I wanted in the first place.

Apparently, the research is right. One thing does lead to another and if you’re not careful, pretty soon you’re on that hedonic treadmill headed toward something like a French press.

I’m prepared to avoid this at any cost. Probably the best way is to bite the bullet and go to Hawaii.

Copyright 2012 Pat Snyder

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