With the world going to hell in a handbasket, some of my friends are turning to therapeutic shoe shopping or gobbling comfort food like pizza and ice cream to help them get by.
I'm watching "Jeopardy."
"Jeopardy," as you undoubtedly know, is a game show in which contestants are given answers to which they try to come up with the appropriate question. It first aired in 1964, which means that the show is almost as old as I am. And yet, while I've known about the show for decades, it took my millennial nephew to get me hooked.
Because Isaac and I both work evenings, our afternoons are free. I'll often stop by my sister's house midday to schmooze with her and enjoy a swim in her pool. Just as often, Isaac will turn up at my sister's house to schmooze with her and watch soccer or "Jeopardy" on her gigantic flat screen TV.
If it's "Jeopardy," I've gotten into the habit of plunking myself down on the sofa to watch along. My sister, a music teacher who is currently on sabbatical, usually joins us.
Which means that at least once a week, you'll find me and my nephew and my sister and Captain, the Yorkie-poo, camped out on the comfy sofa in the TV room watching Alex Trebek eloquently reading out answers and seeing which of the day's three contestants will be the first to come up with the right question.
Of course, the real fun is seeing if you can come up with the right question before they do.
At first, I felt a little guilty about indulging in this entirely pleasant pastime instead of, for instance, returning home to clean my house or making yet another phone call to my senator. With everything I should be accomplishing, wasn't watching TV in the middle of the afternoon a total waste of time? Needlessly self-indulgent?
Then I read a magazine article that set me straight. Researchers, I learned, have identified both social engagement and learning new things as activities that may help prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer's.
Nothing says social engagement and learning new things like sitting on the sofa with two beloved family members kibitzing, calling out the answers to obscure trivia questions and congratulating each other when we get a really tough one right.
Plus, I'm having fun. Fun is good for your health, right? (And I even get extra bonus longevity points because I'm snuggling with the dog as we watch. Research shows that you live longer if you have a dog to love.)
Over the time we've been watching, I've definitely upgraded my brain. How do I know? Even though I'm well read and well-educated, when I first became a Sofa Contestant, I had a lot of trouble accessing what I knew.
Isaac or my sister would call out the right answer. I'd think, "I knew that." And I did! "Lake Sinclair" or "Roseanne Barr" or "The Monroe Doctrine" was right on the tip of my tongue but I just couldn't make my mind move quickly enough.
But over time, I've not only begun to remember a whole world of factoids that I'd entirely forgotten, but my brain now moves much faster. I find that I'm able to contribute the right response more and more often.
I still know a lot less than my nephew does about geography or my sister does about classical music. But if there's a question about a lyric to a 1980s pop song or the name of an obscure stand-up comic? I'm on it.
Between the three of us, we constitute one hell of a Jeopardy contestant.
Sometimes, in fact, we Sofa Contestants will all know the answer to a question that stumps the TV contestants. They'll be standing there blank-faced as we sneer at them happily. "Really? You don't know that silent film actress Mary Pickford was called 'America's Sweetheart'? How can you not know that?"
Of course, the moments I truly savor are when the TV contestants and my fellow Sofa Contestants are all stumped, and only I know the correct response. I call it out, and Alex confirms that I'm right.
When that happens, life is good and I am happy.
I have a pal who once actually appeared on the show and won $40,000. Now that my brain is energized, is that the next step? Hell no. I don't know nearly enough and my brain, while much improved, will never be that quick. It makes me anxious just to think about actually going on the show.
Luckily, I don't have to . Being a Sofa Contestant works for me. All of the fun, but none of the stress.
Afternoon "Jeopardy" with my sister and nephew is one of those small but entirely pleasant pastimes that makes life at 62 worth living.
"What is 'It's the little things that count,' Alex?"