“Life is a collection of a million, billion moments, tiny little moments and choices, like a handful of luminous, glowing pearls. It takes so much time, and so much work, and those beads and moments are so small and so much less fabulous and dramatic than the movies.”
Those words are from Shauna Niequist, one of my favorite authors. I have her words written on a 3×5 card, and it’s usually tucked between the pages of whatever book I’m currently reading, a clear and present reminder that my life is never not now. She reminds me that those luminous glowing pearls are around me all the time, making up all my moments that are making up my life.
The beauty of such ordinary moments have actually become a point of scientific study recently, as researchers wanted to know what people would find more fascinating to review at some point in the future: an ordinary experience, or an extraordinary one. To begin the study, the participants chronicled both an ordinary day and an extraordinary day by taking photos and writing about the events of the day. The extraordinary day was Valentine’s Day, and the subjects (all of whom were currently involved in romantic relationships) wrote about their experiences on the special day.
Three months later, the participants in the study revisited and rediscovered their earlier experiences, both the ordinary and the extraordinary, to determine which ones they were more curious about and which ones were more satisfying to recall. The study’s results reveal the power of the ordinary, as the subjects found that those events of an ordinary day were more meaningful and of greater interest to them than the holiday with hearts and love notes. As it turns out, they had underestimated the beauty and benefits of the ordinary day.
But don’t we all? We tend to underestimate the beauty in the everyday, the cracks in the sidewalk, the bubbles in the milk, the freckles on the noses and the clouds shaped like bubble gum. In Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, Emily revisits her twelfth birthday, and she is overwhelmed by the moments overlooked. She asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it… every, every minute?” And the Stage Manager replies, “No. Saints and poets maybe… they do some.” What might it look like to join the saints and the poets, the ones who see and enjoy the beauty of it all? Or even some of it?
In his book, Clearing Emotional Clutter, Donald Altman wrote about the study on everydayness. He elaborates on lifestyle tools for appreciating and savoring the ordinary, daily practices that can bring awareness, joy, contentment, and fulfillment. Take a look at Altman’s list for finding joy in the everyday:
Savor Small Things that Bring Joy. Think about the small things that you cherish. Consider the daily rituals that bring order to your day: A cup of hot coffee, reading the newspaper, greeting a coworker with a smile, feeling your feet touch the floor each morning. Perhaps a ray of sunlight, a comfortable chair, the color of the walls in your office, or the flavor of your breakfast smoothie.
Observe Ordinary Things Right Next to You. Look around you. What do you enjoy and appreciate that’s nearby? Get in the habit of taking mental pictures (or actual photos!) of ordinary things you are doing in the moment, from sitting down in your office, to driving your children to school. Remind yourself that this moment is significant, and it will never happen exactly this way again.
Soak in a Past Success. Look back to appreciate a post moment where you felt proud and happy. Think of an accomplishment that made you feel proud: graduating from school, helping someone succeed, getting a promotion, beginning to care for yourself, or coming out of the darkness from a difficult season of your life. Take time to remember, and let yourself feel good about this memory.
Remember a Past Kindness. Remember a time when you helped someone, or perhaps someone helped you. Bring to mind a moment when you shared a kind word with someone. Remember even the smallest or most ordinary act of kindness—a smile, a pat on the back, a wink, a note of encouragement. These are powerful expressions of caring that can have long-lasting effects.
Take a few moments to notice the kindnesses, the beauty, the moments. When this becomes a daily practice, you can find what brings you joy. Don’t miss the moments. They’re happening all around you, popping like bubbles. Watch. See. Notice.
Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Her newest book is You Can Do This. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.