Imperfectly Happy

Champagne was “invented” in 1531 by Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire near Carcassonne, France. They bottled wine before the initial fermentation had ended, causing the byproduct of the fermentation, carbon dioxide, to be trapped in solution in the bottled wine. It would be a century before Christopher Merret detailed what is now called Méthode Champenoise, the addition of sugar and yeast to a finished wine to create a second fermentation in the bottle.

Ironically, the bubbles in champagne were initially considered a fault. Le vin du diable, or “the devil’s wine” as it was called, was a scourge of the wine industry. The “bubbles” caused the bottles to explode in the cellars or pushed the corks out of the bottles. Merret’s discovery coincided with English glassmakers’ technical developments that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the internal pressure developed during secondary fermentation. All this happened at least six years before Dom Pérignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers. (Dom P is often mistakenly referred to as the father of Champagne.)

Champagne was associated with royalty throughout much of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It was too expensive for common people to afford. However, production of champagne went from 300,000 bottles a year in 1800, to 20 million bottles in 1850. As the cost came down, the emerging middle class started buying champagne for special events. Since the sparkling wine had long been associated with nobility, it became symbolic as an aspirational drink. Additionally, the audible “pop” of the cork as it escapes under pressure and the visual of the bubbly effervescing and overflowing as if with joy lends itself well to the New Year celebration.

When you pour a glass of champagne, the initial rush of bubbles is due to bubbles rapidly forming on the imperfections in glass or even the dust and fibers left on the glass. After the initial rush, these imperfections are too small to continue acting as nucleation sites because the surface tension of the liquid smooths them out. Better beer and champagne glasses will contain etched imperfections in the bottom of the glass to aid in the continued formation of bubbles which can be seen streaming to the surface.

The New Year is often a time when we commit ourselves to reducing the imperfections in our lives. Lose weight, declutter, spend less, or quit a bad habit, are all at the top of the list for New Year’s resolutions. Those are noble and worthy things to pursue. However, seeking a life without imperfections is not only a fool’s errand, it is actually unhealthy.

The only way to avoid being miserable is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not.

George Bernard Shaw

The imperfections in our lives are often the things that provide the impetuous, or nucleation point, for joy and happiness. We have all experienced spending too much time off and getting restless and bored. Or maybe sleeping too much and finding yourself tired. Or eating so much of something that it no longer tastes good. We need hard things in life to be able to enjoy the soft. We need bitterness to be able to taste the sweet. We need effort in order to truly rest.

If we see the imperfections in our lives as nucleation points for finding joy and happiness, we can experience joy even in those difficult and bitter moments. Like the champagne, the surface tension of life will eventually smooth out each rough spot. The nature of man is such that when all the imperfections are smoothed over, we will intentionally create new ones, like the etchings in the bottom of my favorite beer glass.

As we enter a new year and leave one that was filled with imperfections, it is worth taking some time to be grateful for the things in our lives that require effort but bring joy, relationships, opportunities, and even difficulties. Looking for the bubbles to overflow our glass instead of focusing on the imperfections will help make this year happy, even if imperfectly so. My desire for the new year is that I will choose to see the good in people and circumstances. That is the path to joy, and it is the Kimray Way.