I’m eating breakfast.
I’m sitting at a table, on a proper chair. I have a plate, a knife, two slices of toast and a cup of coffee. The cup is made of china.
(I only mention these details in case anyone under 40 years old imagines breakfast is at the office desk with a plastic container of last night’s pasta and coffeeâ€‘to-go in a cardboard beaker).
Surrounding my plate, knife, toast and coffee is an array of â€¦ stuff â€¦ I’m going to spread on my toast. Let me describe it to you: there is butter, which will go on first, but only if I’m having blackcurrant jam, the rhubarb jam someone gave me for Christmas, thick-cut marmalade or honey, all of which are spread out in front of me.
There is also an avocado, which I happen to like on toast, and pepper, which I happen to like on avocado.
There is peanut butter, which I happen to like on everything; and Vegemite. I think they take away your Australian citizenship if you don’t have Vegemite on your breakfast table, but I happen to like it anyway, with peanut butter or avocado.
Oops! I almost forgot the cream cheese, which, I have discovered, goes well with rhubarb jam.
All this â€“ on two slices of toast?
I’d have to cut them into pieces the size of thumbnails to fit it all on. The reality is that the most I’ll use is four, if I cut each slice in half, and the rest will just be window dressing (or table dressing, more precisely).
I do this every morning. I could eat breakfast in ten minutes, but getting this lot out and packing it away again â€“ mostly unused â€“ can take the best part of an hour.
Then there’s the decisions! While presidents are deciding whether to go to war, and governments are slashing interest rates to protect the economy from collapse, I’m struggling with peanut butter or avocado; Vegemite or blackcurrant jam.
I could eat more toast, but it’s not that easy. Then I’d have to think about wholemeal or rye; sourdough or white; thick cut or thin cut. I’m in enough trouble already.
There are valuable lessons in all this. For instance, just because I can afford 35 different kinds of stuff to spread on my toast, that doesn’t mean I’m happy. It just means I have choices. The whole point of modern, affluent, western society is not that it makes us any happier than old-fashioned, poor societies at some other point of the compass, but that it gives us more choice.
Just take a look at any supermarket shelf. There several thousand washing powders to choose from; there are four billion different kinds of tea in round bags, square bags, squeezable bags and even no bags at all.
We have more choices than a Gold Lotto entry.
But it’s not the choices that mark our character; it’s the decisions.
And if you’re no good at making decisions, breakfast can be very, very difficult.