Eat Your Popcorn with Chopsticks: How to Bring Wonder into Your Daily Life
Inject freshness into the mundane by changing up how you do things.
Do you remember your first day of school? Your first journey as a licensed driver? Your first date with your husband?
Somehow, overtime, the freshly-stocked pencil case is depleted of its supplies, carpool becomes a chore and your DMCs with your soulmate revolve around taking out the garbage.
According to researchers O’Brien and Smith, once we perform an act a certain number of times, we reach a stage called satiation and adaptation, where the experience is no longer new and exciting. We slip into daily routine and acclimate to our new surroundings, the magic of unfamiliarity quickly dissipating. And then we mourn. We mourn the loss of the newness, the excitement and turn to the next pleasure which promises to provide us with lasting satisfaction.
Humans are pleasure-seekers. We want to recapture those initial sparks of wonder; in our jobs, in our family life, in our friendships and in our spiritual lives. But we don’t know how.
Here’s what the latest science tells us: Eat your popcorn with chopsticks!
In 2018, O’Brien and Smith conducted a series of experiments assessing levels of enjoyment in regular experiences versus novel ones. 68 participants selected a popcorn flavor from four options and either ate ten popcorn kernels with their hands or with a pair of chopsticks. Participants subsequently filled out a survey where they assessed the experience for enjoyment, taste amongst other factors. The results were clear: the group who ate with chopsticks had a far more enjoyable experience than the group who ate popcorn with their hands.
We may see this as an exercise in mindfulness, imagining that the chopstick group had a good meditative moment before placing each popcorn kernel in their mouth, rather than cramming it in by the handfuls. But the experiment is based on a simple truth: variety is the spice of life. This is what sprinkles our lives and fills our days with deep satisfaction. Variety. Variety does not mean different options. Variety means doing exactly what I have done, but doing it differently.
The group who ate the popcorn with chopsticks enjoyed each mouthful of crunch that much more because they changed the way they ate it. Not because the popcorn was more nutritious, delicious or expensive. Not because they ate it on an exotic island or served by a white-gloved waiter. Simply because they changed things up.
Our daily prayers remind us of this concept. We say in the blessing before the Shema, “God, in His goodness, renews things every day, constantly.” This statement is somewhat hard to process. Things are the same every day. As King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Every day there the sun rises and the sun sets. Flowers blossom in the spring and leaves gather under our feet in the fall. What renewal do we see every day, constantly? The sky is yesterday’s sky, the grass is tomorrow’s grass.
One word: freshness. God is constantly willing the existence of every leaf and grain, commanding the entrance and exit of the sun, naming and numbering each star. Newness is not about the creation of novel things but about the unique thought and ways to propel it to action. We can constantly inject the mundane routine in our lives with this freshness by changing up how we do things.
As exciting as it is to take out my new 2022 calendar, turn to a different section in my diary and begin a new semester in college, in a few weeks the novelty will wear off. The calendar will wear out, the diary will once again be decorated with post-its and the stresses of the new semester will set in. January is my reminder that I don’t need new experiences; I need new methods.
Try it out. Eat with your spouse, but in a different room. Choose a different route to commute to work. Do your girls’ night out in a different restaurant. And whatever you do, keep a pair of chopsticks handy. After all, variety is the spice of life!