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Breaking the Monotony of Winter

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Welcome. Have you noticed how the weeks that sort of seep by, the ones in which you don’t schedule a socially distanced date or go for a hike in a new spot or otherwise alter your routine, are the ones you can’t account for? I’ve certainly had my share of these, entire weeks of Groundhog Days, in which I seem to always be making dinner again.

Sometimes we need to deliberately shake things up. In the absence of novelty, we need to create it.

In 2007, some friends and I mounted an experiment we called “The Daily Dose.” What would happen if, to intervene in the tedium of days, you purposely added some small variations? What would the butterfly effect be of wearing two different socks for a day, or brushing your teeth with the opposite hand?

It would, if nothing else, create a wrinkle in the starched sameness of the hours. If you wore two different socks, someone might comment on them, and you’d end up having a conversation that would never have happened if you’d worn matching socks. The experience probably wouldn’t be “life-changing,” but it would be life-changing.

The Daily Dose was easy to orchestrate. Two friends and I each wrote up 28 “doses” on tiny slips of paper. The rules were loose: The doses should be small and manageable enough to accomplish in a single day (no “Charter a boat and sail to Bermuda”), they should not be unduly embarrassing, and they should not include any activity you wouldn’t be willing to perform yourself.

We put each dose in a small, identical manila envelope; put all 84 sealed envelopes in a hat; then passed it, each drawing a month’s worth, a random assortment of doses, including some we’d written ourselves. We’d each open one first thing every morning, like taking a vitamin.

“Count how many glasses of water you drink today,” read my first dose. Easy enough. “Do a household task you’ve been putting off,” read the next. I replaced the broken hinge on a kitchen cabinet. Checking things off the to-do list felt good.

“Spend five minutes playing air guitar to the Rolling Stones before breakfast.” Silly, but fun, rocking out to “Emotional Rescue” first thing in the morning. It was exciting to report back on how the doses went, to hear how one friend felt to “go vegan for the day,” what happened when another was instructed to “call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time.” Some of the doses were absurd (“In conversation, refer to yourself as ‘baby’ twice, without explanation”), some just made a tiny dent in the day (“Buy a cheese you’ve never heard of”).

The point of The Daily Dose was to keep things fresh, to ensure that each day didn’t feel like the last. Knowing that I had a dose to open each morning was something to look forward to. Checking in with my friends to see how their dosing had gone was another. The whole experiment was a delightfully artificial way to add some excitement to an otherwise dreary winter.

  • If you need something else to get you through these months, try the poet Donald Hall’s essay “The Third Thing,” about how he and his wife Jane Kenyon found joy and meaning in the everyday.

  • Or check out this compilation of actors and others sitting in silence while film crews capture “room tone” for Criterion Collection supplemental interviews.

  • And here’s Tejal Rao on the Sichuan flavor that reignited her appetite after she had Covid-19.

This past year has weighed heavily on many of us. As the pandemic limps on, the small moments of joy that catch us off-guard have tremendous power to lighten the load.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we’d love to ask you: When did you unexpectedly witness an act of love? It could be something you saw on the street, or a show of care from someone in your life you hadn’t counted on before. It could be a grand gesture between lovers, or a moment of kindness between colleagues or kids in the playground. Tell us about it here.

As always, more ideas for leading a full and cultured life at home appear below. See you next week.

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