My roommate left multiple cabinet doors in the kitchen open last week and it made my eye twitch. On my way to the gym, a man almost ran into me because he was texting while walking, which brought me very close to smacking his phone clean onto the sidewalk then stomping it with my boot. On my way home, some middle schoolers were having a “You’re gay!” screaming contest and I almost found myself fighting some 12-year-olds.
I don’t know if it’s just winter or a cold front inside of me, but lately, when I read the world, it seems like someone highlighted the worst sentences. In better times, all the annoying and petty and performative pieces of life just blended in with the rest of the page, but now they’re popping neon pink. And everything is… annoying.
But while the obnoxious details of life (like a man playing video games on the train with his phone on full volume) can send me into a sour spiral, I can also be quickly reset by life’s soothing details (like the shell of a hard-boiled egg coming off smoothly in one piece). I was reminded of this a few days ago at a coffee shop, when there was nowhere to hang my coat. As I balled it up to use it as a lumpy cushion, a memory from last winter flashed through my mind: I was at a bar with my mother when my sister arrived, took off her coat and her blanket-sized scarf, looked under the bar for a hook, and then hung her things with a satisfied smile.
“I love that so much,” she said, as she settled on her stool.” A well-placed hook? Come on, that’s the best.”
“What is that?” I asked. “That kind of thing that we love because it’s just satisfying or on point? It’s like the opposite of a pet peeve.”
And thus, the “pet fave” was born: The small things that bring us unlikely joy and remind us how gratifying it can feel when life is on beat. If pet peeves draw on a shared humanity by recognizing how annoying people are or how frustrating the details can be, pet faves are what connect us through appreciation and acknowledgement of simple sweetness. They are the inside jokes we have with people we’ve never met; the songs we all know the words to. They are meaningless and meaningful at the same time, which is impressive.
As I sat on my balled up coat, negativity coursing through me, I considered my pet faves. When elderly women call me “baby.” When the doors of the train I’m on open as the next train I need pulls up across the platform. When old couples walk down the street holding hands. Paying with exact change. When I am the only person with no one sitting next to me on the Chinatown bus. When I see a shirt I love, there is only one left on the rack, and it is my size. Falling asleep on a road trip right as I leave and waking up right before I arrive. Putting dry socks on dried feet after swimming. When someone I love hugs me and later that night I put on my coat and can smell them for one second. When I forget to turn my early alarm off, wake up, and realize I have two more hours to sleep.
These are not life-changing moments, but that could be their true magic. They are consistent and common, a relief as we make our way through an existence ruled by uncertainty and change. None of us completely control how our days unfold. There are things that happen by chance and there are mistakes. We don’t get to decide how others will act or how those actions will make us feel. I don’t choose to wake up some days lost in my blue, feeling doubtful or stuck. But I have found that I do get to choose what I lean into, what I give space in my mind to, which voices I amplify, and which thoughts I kindly escort out.
What would it mean to pay more attention to these small reminders, to put the sadness and cynicism in the back row, and to let my faves outnumber my peeves? I imagine it would feel like the spiritual equivalent of a cold glass of water after eating something sweet. You know that feeling? Of course you do. What if life could be like that? It’s so simple, so easy to forget, but I choose what to highlight in neon pink.
Illustrations by Ashley Jihye.