Peach pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie. Pie breakfast is a heavenly and welcome tradition at my house. For me, happiness and pie go hand-in-hand, so when Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness used a pie metaphor for how to let happiness land for us, I took note. Essentially, Rick Hanson promotes the idea that some pie, a slice of pie, is better than no pie at all, and I must say, the idea appeals to me.
Happiness as Pie
Let’s pretend for a moment the circumstances of life – conditions, situations, or events – are all laid out like a huge dessert buffet of fresh pies: cream pies, fruit pies, savory pies, you name it, the pie you want is there. These circumstances are things like having money, financial security and a retirement account, landing the dream career, getting the praise or validation you want at work, having children and becoming a parent, or finding the love of your life who gets you and adores you. Some people amble over to the buffet and walk away with a whole pie. However, when you head to the serving line, what is available, of the particular pie you wanted, let’s say, a romantic partner, is a single slice. Now, most of us would walk away in disgust and annoyance, muttering about the unfairness of the situation.
The Whole Pie or a Single Slice?
Rick Hanson urges us to not throw in the towel. He suggests we come back to the buffet table and slide that slice of pie onto our plate. A pie sitting on the counter is a fine thing; however, the happiest moment is found in actually digging a fork into a slice of pie, admiring the flaky crust as it melts in the mouth, and savoring the tang of a juicy cherry. Hanson points out, though, “Many people turn away from opportunities to have elements of the experience they long for because it isn’t everything they want. They fear that eating a slice will somehow stop them from ever getting the whole pie.”
When the conditions, situations, and events of our lives don’t line up the way we would like, it can feel like happiness will never arrive for us. We hold off happiness by living in the land of “someday”: someday when I am a mother; someday when I have the perfect relationship; someday when I am working in my dream job. Yet, the reason we want certain circumstances in our lives is what these events, situations, or conditions will ultimately help us experience.
When we turn down the slice of pie, we deny ourselves a way to have even some of the experiences we are craving. So, if happiness is best expressed through experience, the question becomes, how can we go about getting at least some of the experiences we’d get from a romantic partnership, such as a playmate, affection, security, validation, deep conversations, and friendship?
Serving up Slices of Happiness
I’ve thought about this question in light of my own circumstance of being childless. What experiences would I have been given if I had been able to walk away with the entire “motherhood” pie? Certainly I would have had the experience of laughter, and fun, happy kid-energy in my house; a myriad of special family traditions each year; affection and other people to care deeply about; children to guide and shape; a legacy. However, circumstances being what they are, the whole “motherhood” pie is not available. I can, however, make sure I enjoy at least some of the experiences being a mother may have afforded me. I enjoy a slice of “motherhood” pie by being a-full-on aunt to my sister’s children.
And, yes, I do understand, exquisitely, how being an aunt versus a mother may not feel like it is enough. And, truthfully, it isn’t enough, in the context of wanting an entire pie. However, to focus on what is lacking, is to walk away from the experience of enjoying that single, delicious slice of pie. Instead, I savor a slice of “motherhood” pie as I plan a girl’s weekend with my niece – creating a tradition; as I offer my opinions – helping shape and guide – to my college-bound nephew (please, please pursue Engineering or Medicine along with your music degree); as I get “dog-piled” in the morning when my youngest niece and nephew pile on top of me at the crack of dawn – fun, happy kid-energy, affection.
I also think of my friend Dave, whose father died when Dave was in his twenties. While the circumstance of losing a parent so young really sucks, Dave has not let this event stop him from appreciating the benefits found in experiencing a slice of “father-figure” pie. Instead of focusing not getting the entire pie – a father who lived to watch his grandkids grow up; a father able to provide careful advice and wisdom; a father, who well into old age, is his son’s greatest champion – Dave actively seeks out male mentors. He is able to relish their friendship, advice, and wisdom, in much the same way he might have, with his father, if his father was alive.
I also think of a slice of pie offered by an organization I am a member of, the 100+ Women Who Care of Madison. While the individual, financial circumstances of the women in the group may prevent grand gestures of philanthropy, a pie otherwise known as, “the million-dollar donation,” 100+ Women Who Care of Madison allows participants the immediate experience of making a difference with significantly smaller amounts of money. In this instance, over a 100 women come together, in an evening, to select a charity through a voting process and then checks are written to the winning charity, to the tune of $10,000. Now the slice of happiness available in a single evening is pretty immense! None of us needs to wait until we are millionaires to make a difference.
A Single Slice Isn’t Nothing; It is Something
So, what if, on the road to “someday” you took some time out to let happiness land, right now? What if you could absorb some happiness through an immediate experience? What if you could walk up to the buffet and willingly accept the slice of pie sitting in the tin, knowing there is enjoyment waiting for you in the next fork full?
If a romantic partner would make you feel loved, how else could you have some of this experience? The experience of being loved by a friend, parent, or child has many aspects of the experience of romantic love.
If a romantic partner would provide the companionship you seek, how else could you have some of this experience? What do you need to do to cultivate more fun and adventurous friendships?
And, while these experiences may not be everything you wanted, or the exact way in which you wanted it, they still amount to something. They are significantly more than nothing, if you let them be your entry point to happiness. To quote Rick Hanson, “If you can’t have the whole pie, at least eat a slice of it.”