Happiness found – at the home store

A high-quality broom changed sweeping the front walk from a chore into a simple pleasure.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit to the degree of spontaneous suburban glee I experienced one recent evening while push-brooming the front walk.

Although I was alone, cleaning the sidewalk of the remnants left from a quick edging of my lawn, I inadvertently uttered out loud, "I love this broom."

I briefly winced, recoiled, and looked around, hoping the neighbors hadn't heard. Then I grinned and went back to sweeping, 'cause it was true. I did – I do – love that broom.

I love my spouse, of course, and my kids, my country, my job, and Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" symphony. I love truth and beauty and goodness and light, and I'd love a leisurely cruise in the Greek isles with beautiful and stimulating companions. I love all of these exponentially more than I love my broom. But in that moment, on that evening, I truly did love my broom in a way that brought ease, comfort, surety, and a spontaneous sense of completeness in life in just that way that love doeth. Silly, I know.

My hair is silver. So this was not my first push broom, although it was my latest. And that, perhaps, is how my love of this particular push broom began.

"Comparisons we make have a profound impact on our feelings," observed Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard professor in his wonderful book, "Stumbling on Happiness."

Dr. Gilbert offers a rich bouquet of studies that reveal how we humans find happiness in the oddest places – and miss it in the most obvious of places.

He demonstrates how our inner ex­pectations and intentions are much more relevant to our level of happiness than outer conditions, such as ice cream cones and pony rides.

Had I not recently owned a previous, rather irritating and inefficient push broom, my love for this one might not have been noticed on that summer eve.

Here's the story: Several years ago I was at the local megastore for other purposes and happened across the push broom offerings. For whatever reason, we were using an old, worn straw broom in our garage at the time. We needed a push broom.

Now, in general I have a relatively high regard for a good push broom. As a teenager I had a secret after-school job sweeping the halls at the local grade school. I used a wide, sturdy, truly professional push broom.

Over the ensuing years, working my way up the ladder (and down and sideways) through various businesses, I pushed many a broom. And then when I owned my own business, I often found pushing a broom to be the most relaxing, meditative, problem-solving activity I did all day. A good push broom can make all the difference between success and failure.

On display at the megastore that evening was a wide variety of different brooms. I had a choice between heavy-duty bristles, medium bristles, and fine bristles; wide and extra-wide; wood handles, plastic handles, and even removable handles, etc.

I suspect I was feeling tired and cranky and a bit put upon by life in general that evening because I decided to save 10 bucks or so and buy a cheaper, low-end broom.

The manufacturer didn't call it "the cheaper broom," of course. It was called the "outside broom," for sweeping concrete and yard debris. And that's what I needed it for – the garage has a concrete floor, after all. And the patio is brick – always collecting yard debris.

Alas, after several weeks or months (garage sweeping is a chore of both necessity and opportunity, not a regularly scheduled activity around our home), it gradually occurred to me that actually to clean the garage or patio with that broom, I had to push it several times over the same area.

The bristles were too far apart, or too petroleum based, or not arranged properly. Whatever it was, it took a lot more effort to push that broom than I knew was necessary for the chore at hand. I remembered without pride my decision to save 10 bucks.

Alas again, I'm not the type of fellow to run right out and remedy such an inconvenience. Or, truth be told, even to remember such an inconvenience unless I happen to be actually pushing the thing at the moment.

I am the type of fellow (alas a third time) who fairly quickly learns to quietly suffer such small shortcomings while contemplating much larger, more pressing issues, such as the constitutional safeguards among the three branches of the US government.

Fast-forward several years to said megastore, and once again I am there on a completely different mission. My attention, however, is caught at the push broom aisle. A light lights up. At the checkout I'm grinning because among my purchases is a sturdy, high-end, high-quality, many bristle, inside/outside, all-purpose push broom.

I'd had the broom a full month or two, I suspect, and had used it numerous times prior to its employment on the front walk for that particular cleanup chore on that recent warm evening.

It was in that moment, however, that I truly appreciated how sweet that broom was – how it was doing exactly what I wanted it to do, without my asking a second time, picking up everything with a single sweep, leaving a nice clean walk in its wake.

"I love this broom" came out spontaneously, effortlessly. And it was true.

Again, this line from Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness": "Comparisons we make have a profound impact on our feelings." Was the old broom necessary to teach me to feel love in small places?

Such musings bring to mind Henry David Thoreau: "That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest."

Comparatively expensive broom. Comparatively cheap pleasures. Thus, my riches – our riches – doeth flow.

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