A Little Happier: A Happiness Lesson from Alice in Wonderland About “Jam Today.”

I’ve been studying happiness, good habits, and human nature for many years now.

One sub-topic I love to study is loopholes. When we’re trying to follow a good habit, when we’re trying to push ourselves to do something challenging, we’re so great at finding loopholes for ourselves, to let ourselves off the hook! These loopholes are often ingenious, imaginative, and hilarious.

When I think about loopholes, I often recall one of my favorite passages from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (Amazon, Bookshop), which is the sequel to his novel Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland (Amazon, Bookshop).

During an argument, the White Queen tells Alice, “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday—but never jam today.”

When Alice protests, “It must come sometimes to ‘jam today,’” the White Queen says—nope. It’s jam tomorrow and jam yesterday.

This reminds of the way we often argue with ourselves.

So often, when we contemplate a habit we wish we had, we think, “Gosh, I don’t know why I’m not already doing this. Why didn’t I do this when I was still in college? Before I had kids? Before I started this new job? Yesterday it would’ve been much easier, but today?—not today.”

And we also tell ourselves, “Well, I can’t do this now! But starting tomorrow, or next month, or once it’s summertime, or once I get through this project, then I’ll do it. Tomorrow it will be much easier.” 

I often fall for this loophole myself. I have a fantasy of myself in the future: Future-Gretchen will have more time and more energy for tasks that don’t interest Now-Gretchen. Chores that I keep putting off—like turning notes into actual writing or going to the dentist—will be easy for Future-Gretchen.

But with everything we wish to do, we only have today. It may feel like “jam tomorrow and jam yesterday”—but the only day we can reach out for that jam is today.

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