The lights dim and the murmur of voices around me falls away. And for a long, lazy spell, I am pierced by an exquisite sense of satisfaction. My contentment is a radiating warmth that folds itself into the silence, a quivering strum that unknots every other moment but the one that holds me in its thrall. I find myself smiling in the darkness, before I am swept away on Eilis Lacey’s journey of finding her life as an Irish immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn.
I am at the movies, alone, on a Thursday afternoon, with a tub of popcorn — my favorite snack — all to myself, and I couldn’t be happier. Years ago, before I discovered the simple pleasure of such a solitary pastime, it baffled me when my mom went to the cinema by herself, or when a dear friend would welcome the few hours in her own company and that of the characters onscreen.
Now, I look forward to those occasions as I would an evening with a cherished friend, find them at once enlivening and restorative. But what strikes me the most this time as I settle into my seat at the theater is the luxury of allowing myself such an indulgence, and how delicious it feels to fully savor it.
For while I have been intentionally attuned to my own bliss for the past few days, it is the first time I am aware of my body yielding to the slowing down and softening, the weaving of my own small splendor. I feel so gratified and utterly deserving of my own delight, I wonder why I don’t make time for such moments more often, why my pleasure tends to be a scrap snatched from the creases of never-ending to-do lists, a hasty, stolen joy already wilted by the demands and shoulds that press against it.
This week, I have relished such flashes as sumptuous gifts to myself, given them room to fan out their headiness, to waft wave after wave of balmy gladness around me.
Rather than get my latte to go after popping into a cafe while walking back to my car from a routine doctor’s visit, I sit at a table facing the window with a large, steaming mug before me, a bowl of quinoa porridge topped with blueberries, and the novel I’d tucked into my pocketbook in case of a wait before my appointment. The half hour that passes is the kind of leisurely comfort I often envision in coffee shops but never allow myself.
But maybe that decision, so seemingly insignificant, is just the bold permission slip I need.
Later in the week, when I scour my collection of fitness DVDs, feeling uninspired by a single selection and with my gym under renovation, I take to the trails near my house. But instead of walking my familiar route, the one I know will get me a convenient 50 minutes of brisk exercise, I hike to a treasured spot, one that always fills me with an easy wonder and peace. And I linger there, marveling in the shadows of the statue of a Lenape Indian overlooking the woods, the magnificent sprawl of winter’s bare limbs, the blackbirds layering them with a flutter of confetti.
When I decide to work on a freelance assignment one evening, I don’t sit at the desk in my office or at my dining table. I head for a new neighborhood hub, a combination of coffee shop and used bookstore where I banter at length with the barista before cozying up by a fireplace in the back with my work. I time myself for two hours, not a push to bleary-eyed completion. When I leave at the close of that window, it is also with a Jodi Picoult novel I know I won’t be able to put down.
I curl up on the couch under a blanket with a cup of tea and my latest absorbing read. I make homemade pizza because I have been craving it. I disappear into poetry. After canceling twice in the last two months, I finally treat myself to a massage. I imagine heaven as a place that serves the chocolate creme brûlée I savor after dinner with a friend who knows my heart.
Yes, I have had the benefit of a few days off. But, unless away on vacation, these are hours I tend to weight with a tower of tasks and projects.
This week, I plot lightly, reserving space for fun, for the ritual of romancing myself. But these are not extravagant moments. Not deep pockets of time that have to be carved at the expense of anything else. And even if they did, I have to remind myself: isn’t my well-being worth it? If I don’t make the time to spoil myself, who will? And the truth is, who knows better than I the pleasures I most enjoy?
What I notice at the movies from that place of unencumbered happiness is not merely how relaxed I feel but how expansive, in harmony — effortless, incandescent harmony — with the pulse of my own life.
I want to say I’ve mastered the art of making time for me, that the value of my own pleasure is now so ingrained that I will never sputter along again, tending to everyone’s needs but my own. Yet I know one week is not enough to build a habit, that the more generous and appreciative version of myself I’ve siphoned from these moments will not magically steer me toward a regular practice.
But what I do feel is a fresh and inspired commitment to create more of them, to plant even a seed of pleasure in my everyday. For such joys are not only ambrosia for body and spirit — they are necessities for maintaining our equilibrium and zest when life threatens to stifle both, making us anything but first on our list.