Often, in seeking happiness, we chase after extraordinary experiences: skydiving from an extreme height, hanging at the show of our favorite band, finally getting that book published, or getting the promotion we felt we always deserved.
But I would like you to reflect a moment with me.
Why Ordinary is Better
Your life is made up of a series of moments.In many of these moments you do very ordinary things: wash the dishes, vacuum your living room, mow your lawn, ordrive to work.
Think about the span of your entire life:how many times will you wash the dishes?29,200 times (Once a day for 80 years)?
And how many times will you experience those extraordinary moments you set your goals after?My example would be the moment I was promoted from call taker to call center analyst.It’s a one time event.That moment I became an analytics manager?
What I’m getting at here is that for most of our days, we spend 90% of our time doing ordinary things.Some might call them boring, yet I challenge you to think about it differently.
My advice?Make those ordinary things your best friends.If you find ways to enjoy those things, then you’ll be content and engaged 90% of the time instead of frustrated or bored or neutral.Instead of thinking all the things you could do if you didn’t wash the dishes, start to think about ways you could enjoy doing those dishes.
There are two ways you can go about this.
First, is finding a way to appreciate the task itself.I’ll give you an example from my favorite author, G.K. Chesterton.It’s actually probably my favorite quote, ever:
I like the Cyclostyle ink; it is so inky. I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud. It is just the same with people…. When we call a man “manly” or a woman “womanly” we touch the deepest philosophy.
I like this because it reminds me, despite the stress/anxiety/action around, to take a moment and simply reminder to enjoy or think about the things I am doing.As n overly-serious person by nature, this often means taking a moment to laugh at myselfand think about what I’m doingor encourage myself in whatever thing I’m taking on.
This is another way I show myself a little self-love.
The idea is to find pleasure in the experience of the thing itself.In many ways, this approaches the concept of mindfulness: being aware of what you are doing and being deeply aware of it. Another way to describe it is mindfulness is paying extra-ordinary attention to ordinary experiences. For me, I try to do this with laundry: enjoying the challenge of finding all the places my family hid their clothes that need picking up, enjoyingthe nice smell I’ll get when the clothes come out of the dryer, and looking forward to my tradition of folding clothes together with my beautiful wife: she teases me about my lack of folding underwear and I tease her about her different way of folding towels and I often am impressed at how much laundry we generate each week!
For a more formal introduction to mindfulness, I recommend Sharon Salzberg — she’s a master at loving-kindness meditation and I’ve used her exercises for years.
Linking the Neutral to the Good
Other times, we may not have yet built up the patience for mindfulness — yet.In these cases, I encourage what I call linking.
Linking is the ability to take something you may not fully enjoy and combine it with something you genuinely love.
Mowing would be an excellent example of this, for me.I really just don’t like yard work.It probably sources from the time a gigantic wasp chased me around my yard until I hid in the house to escape its fierce opposition.
This is likely just a habit from disliking it as a kid, but I really, really don’t like it.So instead of trying to find my zen through mindfully chopping the grass, I associate mowing with things I DO enjoy.
I really enjoy listening to the ted radio hour by Guy Raz, but only allow myself to listen to it while I’m mowing or working on the yard.Thus, while I don’t like mowing, now I look forward to it!The key here is linking the thing you’re neutral or not fond of to something that you genuinely look forward to.
We maintain our hope, passion, and heart by daring to imagine big dreams.By no means, am I discouraging the dreaming process, but I think it is a critical life skill to learn to be aware and enjoy the things you can around you.
A Note on Sincerity
Originally, when I was first getting into mindfulness, I thought it was a little silly and corny, “Breathe deeply and send love to my body?” I thought this sounded a bit ridiculous.But I noticed that the more I did it and the more I started to focus on finding ways to embrace ordinary things, people would notice and I would genuinely be happier.I often get comments like:
“Ed, I really like seeing you every morning because of your genuine smile.”
“Ed, why do you smile so much?”
This is my secret:I just try to really sincerely find ways to enjoy and embrace whatever I am forced or choose to do.
I’m challenging you to find ways to enjoy mundane things more often.I’m really fond of 30 day challenges, a good way to institute a new habit is to find new ways to enjoy things you do several times a week. Science suggests when you smile, other people will smile back more often.
I’ve done this instead of giving up sugar or carbs for 30 days and have found it has always brought me more joy than meeting my weight loss goals.
This is merely an introduction to this topic.If there is genuine interest, I will turn this into a series of posts (or even doing a 30 day trial myself and write about the process!).