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I’m not sure what last week was like for you, but I’m guessing it felt different from the week before. You may have experienced major changes in your work situation, your finances, your child-care scheme, your pantry inventory, your worldview, your handwashing technique, your vacation plans, and your feelings towards doorknobs.

What seemed relevant then may not now, and vice-versa. I don’t believe I heard a single mention of the US election for an entire week, which was surreal. Only six days ago I was quite interested in the results of certain NHL games. Now that feels like a memory from childhood, and there are no NHL games anyway. Also, over a 48 hour span, the topic I was going to post on Raptitude started to seem a little out of touch, then became completely inappropriate — the joys of connecting with strangers in public places.

I do think staying close to our fellow humans is a vital aspect of global well-being right now, but we don’t want to connect in ways that allow our germs to connect as well. Depending on where you live, you may have been asked (or ordered) not to shake hands, high-five, shop, dine out, hug, lift weights, throw a party, give a speech, or dance anywhere but in your apartment.

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When I assembled my supplies for hiking New Zealand’s Milford Track, I made a miscalculation that’s funny in hindsight but sure wasn’t at the time.

It was a four-day trek, and my food strategy was to keep things small, cheap, and utilitarian. For some reason I decided to base my menu around a sporty-person meal replacement bar called “One Square Meal.” My luxury dinner items were spaghetti and pesto sauce, and I rounded things out with a dense loaf of Danish rye bread and a small jar of peanut butter. I liked the idea of roughing it, rationing what little I had, like some kind of romantic vagabond. Each crumb would be valued and enjoyed.

My mistake was assuming that a single One Square Meal bar would serve as one square meal. Upon reading the label at my first meal stop, I learned that it takes two of these bars to constitute a meal, and that it is not recommended to replace most of your meals with meal replacements.

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Post image for A Better Way To Respond to Cravings

When I walk past the mural painted on the side of my local FoodFare, I often experience a very specific and compelling mental image: the silky underside of a Ritter Sport dark-chocolate-with-whole-hazelnuts bar.

I’ve spent a lot of time admiring this particular surface. It’s about three inches square, smooth except for the hemispherical bulges where the hazelnuts show through. The nuts are coated in layer of chocolate so thin it’s sometimes translucent. The top of the bar is less interesting: a standard grid of break-apart squares with a logo on each one. The much more charismatic bottom side is what speaks to me, and the manufacturers evidently understand this, seeing as they print it on the label.

This store offers thousands of items, but I associate it most strongly with this one chocolate bar, in part because it’s my standard “treat myself” item, and also because there’s a needlessly large display of them right beside what is often the only open checkout. This makes it almost impossible to buy anything without having to decide whether this is one of the times I will purchase and eat this 560-calorie ingot of fat and sugar.

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As a kid, whenever I stayed for supper at certain friends’ houses, I wasn’t sure what to do when they prayed.

My family didn’t say grace, but I knew a bit about the ritual from reading the Family Circus. I knew you were supposed to look down and say amen at the end, so I did.

I was familiar with the idea of God—how he made the world and watched over it, and all that. But I found it unlikely he would intervene in the pedestrian matters of cooking and groceries. Still, it made as much sense as Santa Claus and the impossible logistical feats attributed to him, so I went through the motions in the way kids do.

By the time I became an edgy teenager, I’d learned from USENET newsgroups that religion had caused all the ills of society. So I went from playing along with the grace ritual to silently resisting. I still looked down at my hands, but I didn’t interlace my fingers, and refused to say amen. It’s embarrassing to remember that phase.

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Post image for The Difference Between Getting By and Getting Better

When you do something the same way long enough, it stops occurring to you that it can be done differently.

I’ve begun making up for thirty years of mediocre interactions with clerks and cashiers. I was a very shy kid, so I often mumbled my way through retail exchanges. I wasn’t impolite, but I said nothing more than necessary, and didn’t always attempt eye contact. It didn’t feel great, but it worked well enough, and the cashiers didn’t seem to mind.

I’m much less mumbly as an adult than I was at eight, but I’ve apparently still been coasting on the same minimalist approach, navigating retail transactions politely, but not warmly. Hi. I don’t need a bag, thanks. Great, thank you. All in a low voice, sometimes verging on a whisper.

A few weeks ago, after apparently having acted through pure habit for thirty years, I suddenly became conscious of just how needlessly unpersonable I’d been that whole time. As I lifted my grocery bag and spoke my usual “Thank you,” my voice was so low that no sound actually came out. Rather than make a second attempt at speech, I nodded to signal thanks but the cashier had already turned to the next person.

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Post image for When In Doubt, Make Soup

One night a few months ago, two friends and I were feeling the onset of winter doldrums, and made a plan to address it with soup.

We had come together for some activity I no longer recall (movie? board game?) but everyone was feeling pretty low. Each of us was clearly addled by one or more ongoing life-woe—angst over relationships, money, health, aimlessness. Nobody wanted to ruin the evening by dumping their laundry on the floor, but it was obvious that we all needed to talk to someone.

So we made a plan to get together, on a different night, to do just that. Somebody would make a big pot of soup, then while we dined, each person would have a chance share their current struggles, and the rest of the group would listen and try to help.

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Post image for The Other Environmental Crisis

During a holiday get-together, several times the topic of conversation became, “Things that have quietly disappeared from ordinary life.”

We had been playing a word game that requires you to come up with examples from obscure categories of nouns: shampoo brands, film directors, types of fish. When “fashion model” came up, we noticed nobody could name one from this century.

In the 1990s, some of the most famous people in the world were fashion models, but at some point the world-famous model must have become an obsolete institution. Nobody was sad about this, but it seemed interesting that we hadn’t noticed their disappearance till twenty years later.

Earlier, my mom had been unable to make a particular recipe because she didn’t have enough sugar, and didn’t want to make a trip to the store just for that. Someone asked, “Hey… why don’t people knock on the neighbor’s door to borrow a cup of sugar anymore? When did that stop?”

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Post image for How To Go Deeper In 2020

Taped to the door of my friend’s apartment, right at eye level, is an Anais Nin quote: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

Think of a good friend, and picture the moment you met them. They might have been a stranger, a co-worker, or a friend’s friend. However that moment went, the unique quirks and qualities you would one day love about them were already there in the room with you, but you had no idea they even existed.

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Post image for How To Make Meditation Ten Times Easier

Meditation has reached an interesting place in Western culture. It’s popular, well-reviewed by clinicians and scientists, and most people seem to have tried it.

Yet for all the acclaim meditation receives, it’s not very common to actually meditate regularly.

As hobbies go, meditation isn’t known for being beginner-friendly. Its learning curve can seem nearly wall-like at the beginning, mainly because its central task – focusing indefinitely on one thing – is essentially impossible if you haven’t already meditated for years.

You know this if you’ve tried it. Staying with a breath or two is no problem. But just beyond that, at some always-unseen moment, your intention to focus dissolves into dreamlike images, mental chatter, and bits of Taylor Swift songs.

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Post image for Most Accomplishments Are Invisible

A few weeks ago a viral tweet went around asking, “There’s only one month left in the decade… What have you accomplished?”

If that question strikes you as uncomfortable, you’re not alone.

Both the tweet and its tweeter have since disappeared from the platform, but you can still read the replies, and they say a lot about our notion of “achievement,” and how it’s changing.

The thread began with impressive lists of conventional successes: medals won, degrees earned, books published, startups sold. But as the replies accumulated, the tone shifted. More people began listing not what they had won or created but what they had survived—job losses, bad relationships, addiction, depression, chronic pain, debt, and anxiety.

Many described their great achievement of the 2010s as moving from an unbearably tough place to a bearably tough place, or even just surviving where they were. Virtual hugs and high fives were exchanged.

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