Pontifications by columnists urging readers to seize the day and appreciate the finer things in life are oftentimes trite and insipid. I myself have read such articles while barely suppressing the urge to send anthrax to whichever Andy Rooney-esque writer had decided to tell me how glorious life can be if one only stops to appreciate the beauty in something as precious as a hot cup of cocoa. Many people share this same sentiment, with varying degrees of acidity, when they happen upon such opinions. This is, of course, until they themselves get wistful and discover heavenly idiosyncrasies that they wish to share with the world—like I am about to do.
One thing that is oftentimes sweeter and more savory than stopping to smell the roses is burying one’s nose in a book, particularly one by Mr. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. I have long considered the canon of Vonnegut to be tantamount to the Gospel. It is a trove of literary delicacies that as Jon Stewart put it “made adolescence…bearable.” One of Kurt’s nuggets of wisdom from God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian reads as follows:
“My late Uncle Alex Vonnegut, my father’s kid brother, a Harvard-educated life insurance agent in Indianapolis who was well read and wise, was a humanist like all the rest of the family. What Uncle Alex found particularly objectionable about human beings in general was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy.
He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “if this isn’t nice, what is?”
I myself say that out loud at times of easy, natural bliss: “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Perhaps other can also make use of that heirloom from Uncle Alex. I find it really cheers me up to keep score out loud that way.
If this isn’t nice, what is?”
This is perhaps the greatest advice that my favorite sage has ever dealt. Like Uncle Alex Vonnegut, we should all be keeping score aloud whenever possible. Happiness Realization 101 should be a requirement for all human beings, as it is assuredly more beneficial than anything any other course has to offer.
What things do I consider worthy of random verbal praise? For one: pie. I consider myself to be an agnostic, but pie (not p) makes an extremely convincing argument for Intelligent Design. Coconut cream pie to be specific, but I never met a pie I didn’t like. Also on the list: books that can make me laugh out loud, a woman running her fingers through my hair, brand-new socks, beer on a hot day, rum on a hot night, red wine on any night, etc. The list is infinite, but oftentimes underappreciated. It has occurred to me that what stands out the most in my memories of vacations is almost always the drive there and/or the drive back. This, I believe, comes from the fact that there are few things more edifying than discovering someone that you bear, let alone enjoy, spending eight or more hours in a car with. Flirtatious waitresses also come to mind as deserving praise.
As scorekeepers of these things that can make us all sigh in contentment, we all seem to be mediocre at best. It has often been said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would go even further to suggest that the life with a score of anything shy of the billions is not worth living as well.
I will always be grateful to Kurt for these and an infinite number of other words of wisdom. Such kernels of cast-iron simplicity such as: “I consider a saint to be anyone who behaves decently in an indecent society.” Canonization pending, I would like to nominate Kurt Vonnegut as the Patron Saint of Niceties.
And if that isn’t nice, what is?
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