SALT LAKE CITY — Last week, I tossed a banana into my smoothie. My taste and smell had disappeared 36 days prior, around the time my COVID-19 diagnosis had appeared, so it wasn’t about taste. I simply noticed a banana sitting on my counter, nearing the end of its shelf life, so I added it to the blender. That was all.
Never have I ever been as surprised and affected by taste as when I took the first sip of that smoothie and realized my brain was actually registering the flavor of banana.
I was astounded at how the simple taste of banana — which I like but don't even love — could have such a profound effect on me. But it absolutely did. The moment was one of complete, pure happiness.
As 2020 continues to throw me for loop after loop, purely happy moments like that have felt harder to come by.
Never have I ever known life to be as unpredictable as during 2020. It’s hard, and I’d like very much for it to stop. But I feel like asking the year 2020 to stop being hard is a bit of a tall order. Still, while I can’t stop this year from being hard, I'd dearly like to experience more banana moments.
Rumi, a Persian poet born in the year 1207, offered this timely advice that I’d love to be able to follow, starting yesterday, "Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?"
Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?
–Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet
Do not worry? Lovely in theory, problematic in practice. Enter the actual science behind happiness — I’m so glad it’s out there. Happiness researchers have dug deep and wide to figure out what makes humans happy. Their findings offer valuable insights that can help us navigate the ever-changing, often-worrisome landscape of 2020.
Matt Killingsworth, a happiness researcher from Harvard, set out to determine when humans are most happy by building an app called Track Your Happiness.
"How does it work? Basically, I send people signals at random times throughout the day, and then I ask them questions about their experience at the instant just before the signal,” Killingsworth explained in an essay for Mindful.org. “The idea is that if we can watch how people’s happiness goes up and down over the course of the day, … we might eventually be able to discover some of the major causes of human happiness."
After collecting over 650,000 real-time reports from more than 15,000 people in 80 countries, Killingsworth reports, "My results suggest that happiness is indeed highly sensitive to the contents of our moment-to-moment experience. And one of the most powerful predictors of happiness is something we often do without even realizing it: mind-wandering."
He goes on to say that "mind-wandering less often could substantially improve the quality of our lives. If we learn to fully engage in the present, we may be able to cope more effectively with the bad moments and draw even more enjoyment from the good ones."
... mind-wandering less often could substantially improve the quality of our lives. If we learn to fully engage in the present, we may be able to cope more effectively with the bad moments and draw even more enjoyment from the good ones.
–Matt Killingsworth, researcher from Harvard University
When I tasted that banana, a moment that immediately earned a prominent position in my “one of the great ones” memory folder, my mind didn’t even consider wandering. And even better, it's still paying happiness dividends. Even now, writing about it a week later, I’m getting all kinds of warm fuzzies.
In “The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment,” an article for Psychology Today, Jay Dixit explains why I’m still benefiting from my banana moment.
"Why does living in the moment make people happier — not just at the moment they're tasting molten chocolate pooling on their tongue, but lastingly?” Dixit asks. “Because most negative thoughts concern the past or the future. As Mark Twain said, ‘I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.’”
To be clear, that smoothie in no way washed away my troubles. My list of anxieties and difficulties — both pandemic-induced and life-induced — was as long and circuitous as ever. And yet, I experienced authentic happiness in that moment.
Trouble and happiness, coexisting.
I still have never known life to be as unpredictable as it has been during 2020. It’s still hard, and I’d still like very much for it to stop. But I can still experience moments of happiness. Even in 2020.
So I’ve decided to consciously put less energy into resisting change and more energy into fully engaging inside my moments, finding “the happy” whenever I can.
Who knows where I’ll find it next? It might be during a walk or a conversation, inside a prayer or a song or a store or a book. Or, it could simply be sitting on my counter, nearing the end of its shelf life, waiting to be found.
Have you experienced an unexpected moment of happiness recently? Share what happened, and why it stood out as your “banana moment,” in the comments below.