Back when Oprah was at the height of her powers, she had a regular episode where she trotted out her "favorite things." A laundry list of her must-haves, it reached across the physical universe to gather under one heading the things she loved. It was a huge crowd pleaser, mostly because the rapturous audience was given each item on the list. Those ranged from the purely pedestrian ("Give it up for Beecher's, the world's best macaroni and cheese!"), to big ticket items that really did have the audience up and screaming ("And where better to watch your new Netflix subscription than on your new Sony Bravia 52-inch 3D television!!!").
Odds are that there is no one knocking on your door with a list of consumer goods that they swear will bring joy and happiness to your life. That's not to say there aren't occasions when it does happen: birthdays and holidays come to mind. However, for me at least, contentment these days is more and more about situations than big ticket items. To wit:
Turning off the lights in a room. Yes, it's good for the environment. Yes, it saves money. But there's something psychicly satisfying about making dark. And so when it's only me around at night, I generally turn off lights in rooms I'm leaving, or just don't turn them on at all as it starts to turn to night. I turn on one where I am, and no more. This means that when my wife comes home after a late meeting, I'm likely to be sitting in a single room with a reading light on and the rest of the house dark. It drives her crazy. I'm not saying that's part of the attraction, but then again...
The perfect pump. As immortalized by Jerry Seinfeld in an American Express commercial a few years back, self-serve gas has meant that we've all had to become well versed in the fine art of operating a pump. In the old days, when cash was king, the ability to flick it off just when it hit a round number was of some value. After all, miss it, and the attendant had to make 97 cents of change. Nowadays, most use credit cards, so there's really no point to trying to stop at a round number. Yet we still do it. Call it force of habit. Call it pride. Either way, when I can hit thirty bucks on the fly, it brings a smile to my face. Yes!
Drinking milk from the jug. C'mon, fess up; we all do it. When there's no one around, and you just lifted a cookie from the tray, who has time for a glass? You open the door, grab the carton and pour it straight down your throat. Same goes for OJ or iced tea. Of course it's unsanitary. Of course you'd yell at your kid if you caught them. But it's something that just feels so right. However, it's also something else I'll get in trouble for. And drinking milk from the jug when the only light is coming from the fridge? I may as well go turn down the bed in the guest room right now.
Finishing stuff. I'm not talking about emptying the box of pancake mix or finishing a bag of pretzels. I'm talking about all those half-used bottles in the fridge of mustard, or the seven almost-done jars of jam, or the tin of decaf coffee you opened for that one person at a dinner party and has been sitting in the corner of the cupboard for months. There are few things more satisfying than scraping out the last little bit and giving the empty the heave-ho. My special case is cereal. We have several different types, each open, each going stale. It's gotten so I take all the partials and combine them into one, enabling me to throw out several empties at once. It's also led to some interesting blends, like Smart Cheerio Granola Cinnamon Flakes. Kellogg's, take note.
I'm sure you have your own special moments; let me know what they are. A new pair of shoelaces? A hot shower after mowing the lawn? A cool pillow when you first get into bed? It calls to mind one of my favorite sayings: it's not surprising everyone has a price, it's just a shame how low it usually is.
Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to scrape out a jar of peanut butter. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/.