I love buffets.

Not only do I like the wide variety of tastes a buffet offers, I like being able to eat as much of my favorite tastes as I desire. I have always preferred Chinese buffets. I like that style of cooking, the mixing of vegetables and meats and sauces in a blend that is salty and sweet.

I have my favorite places too. Some are close to the house, some close to work and some are a drive away, but each one seems to offer different aspects that appeal to me on any given day. One has really good sushi and those slices of pink ginger that are as addictive as candy. One has really good chicken on a stick grilled with just the right amount of cinnamon and pepper and sugar. Another has a Mongolian flat top table where you pile your ingredients, your broccoli, your noodles, your onions, your peppers, your chicken and beef– all doused with one of several different sauces– on a plate and give it to man behind the counter who grins and picks up your plate as if it weighed as much as a tire. He spreads it out on the table, which is already scorching hot, and mixes it around with chopsticks two feet long, not even thirty seconds, dousing it with water a couple times and then hands you back your steaming Mongolian feast.

Ah, yes! If I know I am going to a Chinese buffet, I am a happy man.

When I need a pick me up, whether it was because of the collective irritation of trying to be polite and accommodating with a hundred grousing clients, or a coworker (or even worse, a friend or loved one) said something that really seemed to creep under my skin or put me on my defensive, or when something unexpected and frustrating happens like a flat tire on a rainy day when I am already five minutes late for work, I find myself looking for something to pep me back up. At times like these, a Chinese buffet goes a long way. I like something that makes me feel better.

Sometimes I am dealt even harder blows. We all are. We find out that an old high school friend or an uncle we loved to go fishing with has passed on. We find out that our sister or our husband went to the doctor today and heard some really bad news about that painful liver. We wake up and wonder if we should keep trying to make things work with this man or woman we live with who no longer seems to be the same person we fell in love with so long ago. We go to the bathroom and find that our son has tried to flush the needle down the toilet so we wouldn’t see it.

Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a tragic circumstance like this.

I wake up early some mornings and wonder why I haven’t gotten any closer to realizing my dream of writing a book that can’t stay on the shelves, not because of the money it would bring in, but because of the way it connected with people. And some nights when I am sitting in front of the TV watching Harry kiss Sally I wonder if that kind of love and emotion is only an ideal that people strive for and never really succeed in having or keeping. I’ll walk by shop windows with mannequins wearing a dress that I know my wife would love to have, or stare at a travel ad on the internet of a luxurious hotel and the prettiest beach you’ll ever see and wonder if I will ever be in a situation where I can freely pursue and experience these luxuries without worrying about sacrificing my child’s college education or that needed repair to the plumbing in my house.

The truth is, it’s hard to be happy all the time.

Sure, we strive for happiness. We convince ourselves we are happy with where we are at. We learn to be satisfied with what we have. Things could always be worse, especially if we looked around the corner or turned on our evening news or traveled to one of those countries.

But at times, we don’t always feel happy. No one is immune.

When people feel like this, they do the same kind of thing I do when I go to the Chinese buffet. They attempt to make themselves feel better. We want anything that will take away the pain, the struggle, the fear, the anger, even if only for a few minutes. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We need releases, things that allow us to relieve tension and escape, as long as we are willing to come back and solve the problem or at least deal with it in a responsible way.

Some people take themselves out to the movies. Some people go shopping and buy a shirt, a new book, a new CD. Some people go out to McDonalds and eat two double cheeseburgers, or go to the grocery store and buy the biggest gallon of peppermint ice cream they can find. Some people call up their buddies and go out to the bar and drink beer until the smile is stuck on their face and everyone in the bar seems like a best friend and problems, what problems! Some people find a pretty girl or handsome guy and attach themselves until they feel wanted and loved and worthwhile, even if it will only last for the night. Some people feel so horrible inside, they will take a little sip of that or a little hit of this and whala! No more problems or bad feelings or lost hopes. For a time.

I know. I’ve done it too.

The high, the euphoria, the gallon of ice cream, the kissing only lasts so long and then two things can happen. One, you’re ok. Or two, you feel a little worse.

Me? I always feel worse. The problem is still there, and now that I feel worse after the quick fix-me-up has faded, I am in less of a position to really deal with it. I might even need another quick fix-me-up. And then another. Before I know it, I might find myself in a situation, or on a path in life, I really don’t like and wonder how I got there.

Perhaps I now have an extra fifteen pounds that poke out of my shirt in such a way that I could attend a lamaze class wearing a wig and nobody would look twice. Perhaps I have had forty-three girlfriends for a night and yet don’t get a single Valentine’s card. Perhaps I need surgery on a wrist I broke and the insurance won’t cover it all, but I can’t have the work done because I just don’t have the money. But I do have a closet full of shoes.

I just need to remember that I planted a lot of seeds, maybe just the wrong kind of seeds.

I made a lot of choices based on how I felt, rather than on how I wanted to feel. The difference is simple, but it matters. When you make decisions based on how you feel, you are making them based on temporary circumstances. If you make them based on how you want to feel, you are creating a base (structure) of circumstances that will generate better feelings more often.

And so I am left with a rather simple choice each and everyday. Immediate pleasure, or sustained happiness.

© Seth Crossman