“Why do I get pesto? Why do I think I’ll like it? I keep trying to like it—like I have to like it.”
“Who said you have to like it?”
“Everybody likes pesto. You walk into a restaurant, that’s all you hear—pesto, pesto, pesto.”
“I don’t like pesto.”
“Where was pesto ten years ago?”
More than a scene from “The Busboy” episode of Seinfeld, you’ve likely experienced an instance like this yourself—a situation where you feel self-conscious about exerting your preferences and “sticking to your guns.” In an attempt to be an open-minded explorer of worlds, you end up forgoing sure-fire preferences for maybe-I’ll-like-it-this-times.
Here’s an unpopular opinion: pickiness is severely underrated.
Though modern society is designed to make us feel like curmudgeons for not continually seeking the hip new thing, most of this anxiety is engineered FOMO—fear of missing out. I, for one, lean into JOMO—the joy of missing out. How? By embracing my picky, quirky, eccentric ways, i.e., things I know I’ll like.
The Happiness of a Picky Kid
As a kid, did you have bouts of pickiness? Were there periods of time whenever you were obsessed with a particular song, food, or clothing ensemble? Do you recall how much happiness these simple preferences brought you? I was recently revisiting my childhood pickiness and discovered something quite magical; if you dare to abandon all outside expectations for what you’re supposed to want, like, or enjoy, you can receive immense joy from the simplest of creature comforts.
There is one caveat of this path, though — you have to channel your inner picky child.
Picky Child or Chronic Preference Researcher?
I was blessed with very wise parents. They recognized that children operate in phases. Instead of freaking out about the bizarre choices my brother and I would make, they would give us our space, but closely monitor our choices to see where they would take us.
Most of the time, my chosen preferences about what I wanted to eat, wear, pump into my headphones, or watch on the television — all were subject to sudden and drastic change. My parents also understood that, had they wanted to limit my bouts of experimentation, there would be a strong likelihood I would resent this intrusion and latch to what they deemed detestable — aka, the cause of most teenage rebellion. Their only stipulations were for my own good — making sure that I ate my vegetables, got to bed at a reasonable hour, and never rolled my eyes when asked to brush my teeth or take out the trash.
I imagine that this tolerance of my experimentation wasn’t always easy for them. At one point in my childhood, I remember a time when all I wanted to wear were overall-shorts, red cowboy boots, a cape, and my dad’s old football helmet (notice I didn’t mention a shirt). I remember accompanying my mom to pick up my dad from the airport one day, donned in my broke-down superhero vestments. Everyone at the baggage claim likely assumed I was as crazy as a soup sandwich…or that I was five years old, which I was.
But guess what? I was happy and everyone was fine.
The Picky 30-Something-Year-Old
Returning to the realization that I was allowed to embrace my picky inner child came about recently not as an epiphany as much as it was my wife giving my picky behavior a loving dig. One evening, while watching the famed producer Rick Rubin interview another famed producer, Pharrell, I said to my wife, “Rick Rubin is my spirit animal.”
For those of you unacquainted with Rick Rubin, he’s pretty much the veteran Gandalf of recorded modern music with a likely shorter list of musicians he hasn’t worked with than he has. In addition to his work, he is a caricature of “cool.” Though always sporting a long, thick beard and a shoulder-length truly unmanicured bed head, these days, he’s almost always in cotton shorts, barefoot, oozing Sunday-afternoon-backyard-uncle energy. His words float out of his bearded face like clouds with so much space between sentences that you could rent it out in Midtown Tulsa for $900 a month. You get it — I like the guy.
“Only that you can’t stand to wear shorts or go barefoot,” my wife said without looking up from the cabbage stew she was stirring on the stove. She was right — I’m one quirky dude.
Just to give you a further taste:
- I have to sleep in full pajamas because I don’t like the feeling of my skin touching my other skin — also the reason I rarely wear shorts.
- I choose coffee mugs by the way their handles feel.
- Before I was married, I only slept in hammocks.
- I once spent about five hours shopping for the perfect belt. It turned out to be about $12.
- I dislike the feeling of plastic — especially plastic cups and combs.
- All of my clothes must be “nappable.”
- Depending on the closeness of our relationship, if you are a male, I will likely call you either “buddy” (for friendly acquaintances) or “bubba” (for close personal friends).
I could go on, but then again, so could you.
The act of acknowledging my eccentricities scratches an even deeper itch—that these quirks are my conditions for increased happiness and optimal living. The way my clothes, combs, and coffee mugs feel. The warmth I feel for my friends. The intention I put into the possessions I choose to let into my life. My disregard for certain societal norms (e.g. sleeping in a bed) versus comfort preferences (e.g. sleeping in a hammock). By taking ownership of my “quirks” and the ways in which I am picky, I can lean into these to bring more joy into my life. Like a pet lizard’s owner fills their reptile’s terrarium with the lizard’s favorite things, I realized that I too could fill my life with the sensations I find most pleasing to facilitate consistent joy.
Imagine a Life Filled with Favorites
“If you do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” – Tony Robbins
Though this quote is usually meant to jar people out of a rut, when you apply it to a scenario in which you enjoy what things that you’ve always done, it takes on an entirely new meaning. It goes from, if only I could get out of this rut to you mean I don’t have to feel bad about only wanting to wear bamboo-fiber socks? Nice! Bring on more of the same, please!
The Dangers of Living in a Joy Terrarium
While living in a bubble of your own curated happiness sounds blissful, before you do so, there are a handful of questions you should probably ask yourself.
- Are any of my preferential quirks self-destructive?
You wouldn’t think that a lifestyle preference perceived as optimal could be self-destructive, but they absolutely can. Excessive usage of pretty much anything can be harmful to your physical, mental, and spiritual health. One question to ask before leaning into a quirky preference is, “is this sustainable?” If your quirk is that you only want to eat top ramen, the answer is a resounding “no.” I don’t believe that stuff is actually even food.
- Are any of your “quirks” rooted in prejudice?
There’s a massive difference between a quirky preference and a prejudiced mindset based on unsubstantiated hate of an entire people or culture. If that’s the case, you’re not picky or quirky—you’re likely just a jerk. Genuine preferences are developed utilizing research and experimentation. George doesn’t like pesto because he’s tried pesto, not because he hates Italians.
- Are there any of my quirks that may hurt or inconvenience anyone else?
I feel blessed that most of my conditions for joy are relatively benign to the existence of others. My coffee mug, wooden comb, and single belt do not adversely impact the life of my wife or son. If you have a preference for listening to the music at full blast or sleeping in a hammock while married, you may need to compromise on some of your lifestyle choices. This compromise would be for the sake of preserving essential relationships and the sanity of those in your life. I’ve personally discovered that I occasionally need to make comprises because not everyone enjoys jalapeno and anchovy pizza as much as I do. But seriously, give it a shot…or don’t. Your preference.
Dipping Your Toe Out of Your Comfort Zone…You Know, For Research Purposes
Keep in mind that you once dipped your toe out of your comfort zone to discover what you now prefer. If your favorite food is authentic Chinese cooking and you’re not from a Chinese family, you likely took a gamble at one point—and it paid off! Though it can be tempting to limit yourself solely to your picky preferences, allow yourself instances where you take these gambles for research purposes. Set time aside from life in your terrarium to lower your force fields and try the fish tofu pudding fish from China Garden at 31st & Mingo in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yes, this has all been an elaborate commercial for China Garden. Ok, just kidding. But seriously, it’s so damn good.
There Really is No “MO” in JOMO
JOMO (the joy of missing out) is somewhat of an inaccurate description of the sensation of relishing in your eccentricities. There isn’t really any “missing out” from the perspective of an honest JOMOer…or is it JOMOist? No, being picky in this context does not mean plugging your ears, closing your eyes, and singing the chorus to German Eurodance group ATC’s 1999 international radio hit “Around the World” (yes, it’s “la la la la”). Being picky means you’ve done the research, you’ve discovered what you like, and you’ve chosen to spend the majority of your relatively short life enjoying these selections rather than being consumed with chasing after fleeting maybes.
Some call them “creature comforts.” A JOMOist just calls them “my life.”
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Also, if you like this, you may a free downloadable ebook I wrote about how I cultivated five life-changing habits in 2019 called An Upgraded Year: Why & How I Picked Up Five Transformational Habits in 2019.
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