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Savoring the Ordinary Moments in Your Life Can Bring Unexpected Pleasure

Closeup shot of a woman having a cup of coffee at a cafe

“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 3x5 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: