As I made my tea tonight, I thought about how just a little bit of thinking about a little annoyance was able to make my life a little better.

Here’s how I make tea at home: I make hot water by running cold water into a Pyrex measuring cup, putting the cup in the microwave, and setting the microwave to run on High for 2:40. When the microwave dings, I pour the hot water into my thermal mug, add sugar and a teabag, and steep for a few minutes. When the steeping is done, I drop the teabag into the garbage and put three ice cubes into the mug. I now have tea that steeped at a high temperature but is ready to drink immediately. The thermal mug keeps it at a drinkable temperature for an hour or more.


You can probably guess that I arrived at the three-ice-cube solution by trial and error. I started with two ice cubes and found it didn’t cool the tea enough. Three was just right.1

But how did I arrive at 2:40 for the microwaving time? Am I that anal about the temperature of the water? It’s not about the temperature. Almost any time beyond 2:30 will make the water hot enough. In fact, for months—maybe even a year—after we got this microwave, I set the time to 2:45 and the tea was just fine. But there was that little annoyance.

The annoyance came from the turntable in the microwave and the handle on the measuring cup. I’d put the cup in with the handle pointing out, and 2:45 later I’d open the door and the handle was around to the other side. The cup was too hot to grab elsewhere, so I had to snake my hand around to the back to reach the handle. Not a big deal, but after months of doing it I finally realized that this wasn’t just some unlucky streak. The position of the handle when the microwave turned off wasn’t random, it was determined by the speed of the turntable (which I had no control over, but was constant) and the time I set (which I had complete control over).

I wasn’t unluckly; I was stupid. The next time I made tea I tried 2:40, and the handle was right where I wanted it. A minor victory, to be sure, but a victory I get to repeat every day.

It’s so easy to go along putting up with small irritants that are ultimately our own fault. I’m sure there are plenty of other thoughtless things I do that create irritations for me. But there’s one less than there used to be.

  1. That’s right: three shall be the number of the ice cubes and the number of the ice cubes shall be three. Five is right out.