“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” Kurt Vonnegut
Simple pleasures have always been an important feature of my life. My dad, also a particular Vonnegut fan too I must add, instilled this joy through his pleasure of a ripe banana that is just so; or the ritual of having breakfast watching the birds in the garden; or a sudden break into a skip; or discussing with me the joy of eating raw broccoli, for the record it because it tastes like the colour green more than anything else.
It seems so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and hustle, constantly fixated on the things we are yet to acquire. Constantly moving the bar of success and the happiness we assume that comes with it just beyond our grasp. For artists added to this it that there is no set way to create a successful outcome, in fact making it all the more unlikely if it has already been done.
Desire and ambition are incredible forces that can muster huge amounts of energy to generate projects, ideas and outcomes, but life is not so simple as to will something to be. Obstacles are also a set feature and the pressures of limited resources such as time, energy and money, can make us feel completely out-of-control and off-course of where we ‘ought to be’. Actually the more capable and ambitious we are, the more destructive this force can become.
But if we approach this from the other way around, if instead of thinking that obstacles are the unwelcome intruders into our well-devised plans, we should actually expect and plan for them. Shifting goal posts are here to stay and constant change is a feature of our time but we can control the way we perceive this challenge. <Insert sailing metaphor of choice here> (I have always found them comforting, even if they don’t stand up to deeper scrutiny).
Not only is it a choice to celebrate the humble moments in life on a daily basis, I also try to focus my energy on broader actions and habits that I can actually control. Whether this is going to bed early, or choosing to spend an hour writing instead of watching tv or taking time to meditate. Recently reading The Personal MBA I particularly like the way Josh Kaufman describes the distinction between goals and results, and warns of the perils of mixing them up. “For the best results, make your Goals actions that are within your Locus of Control“, the results are then the by-product of completing these goals. Rather than having the goal to post on my blog every month, which becomes defeating when I don’t achieve it, I focus on the goal that every Monday I spend a couple of hours working on a post. The result being that without any stress or guilt about once a month (more-or-less) I have something that I want to post.
It all sounds quite easy but actually takes a bit of de-programming to think about things this way around. The well-meaning but naive career advice that was doled out to my generation in Australia: “you can be whatever you want to be…” (without much detail added to how you were actually going to do it), totally failed to prepare us for the un-level playing field, the reality of the competitive global market and the rewards for specialisation. The mythology around ‘success’ trained us to focus on big-ticket achievements that with broad-brush strokes have been painted for us in heroic proportions. Rarely does such a report record the daily joys and challenges of our lives, and instead is skewed towards fantastic atomised accomplishments.
I have been tinkering with this and a number other posts for a couple of weeks but today I was reminded of how insane this pressure to succeed can become and how grateful I am for the positive rituals in my life (and the people who introduced them to me). We are continually surrounded by wonderful and incredible moments everyday, but it is up to us to embrace and rejoice in them.
This week the things that made me happy:
Fresh crisp pear that I had with my muesli
The momentarily propulsion of running up moving escalators
Finding the most delicious peach ice tea
The randomness of both trains I got to work having pieces on them
Strolling in my neighbourhood with my first ice cream of the year
Dozing on the couch listening to old British radio programs
… and at some point murmur “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is”.
What were the things this week that made you happy?