Gretchen Rubin

In which I learn a new and useful happiness term: mis-en-place.

One of the fun things about law school (and you thought there wasn’t anything fun about law school!) was the new vocabulary we all picked up.

A new word lets me have a new idea. I remember learning the concept of “acting in reliance,” and suddenly, I saw people acting in reliance all over the place.

I just picked up a useful word from a field I know nothing about—cooking.

Cooks, it turns out, talk about mis-en-place (MEEZ ahn plahs), which is French for “put in place” or “everything in its place.” Mis-en-place describes the preparation done before starting the actual cooking: gathering ingredients and implements, chopping, measuring, and all the rest.

Mis-en-place is preparation, but it’s also a state of mind; mis-en-place means you have everything at the ready, with no need to run out to the store or begin a frantic search for a sifter. You’re truly ready to begin to work.

I’ve been thinking about mis-en-place in my own life. Do I have the tools I need? Am I able to proceed in an orderly, serene way?

Nothing is more satisfying than working easily and well, and I’ve found that mis-en-place helps me achieve that state of flow. In particular, my most important equipment is my own head, so I’ve been paying more attention to my frame of mind. I also like the feeling of having an orderly collection of the tools that help me in my pursuit of happiness: my scoring charts, my list of Twelve Commandments, my pads of sticky notes, my garbage bags, my happiness box, my favorite pens, etc.

Now that I’ve learned the term mis-en-place, I’m more deliberate about composing myself to begin work—whether at my desk at home, on the long table at the library, or in a coffee shop.

For some reason, a phrase from high school, which I also made the last sentence in my college essay (how do I remember these things?) also seems related to this idea and keeps reverberating in my head...

"Read all instructions carefully. Turn over your test papers and begin."

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