Life can be tough at times. I know that life can knock you into the dirt. But, I also know that life can be joyous, worthwhile and rewarding if we knew how!

 

Give Me the Simple Life: Ordinary Wonders

To my mind, one sure path to happiness, joy, contentment and inner peace, is for us, the ordinary people, living our everyday ordinary, simple lives, making extraordinary differences to what life is really all about. Let me explain further by quoting a  beautiful passage from one of my wise teachers, Lao Tzu, reminding us about what values and principles will ultimately make our lives truly extraordinary. It goes like this:

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.

Others call it lofty but impractical.

But to those who have looked inside themselves,

this nonsense makes perfect sense.

And to those who put it into practice,

this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:

simplicity, patience, compassion.

These three are your greatest treasures.

Simple in actions and in thoughts,

you return to the source of being.

Patient with both friends and enemies,

you accord with the way things are.

Compassionate toward yourself,

you reconcile all beings in the world.

The Beauty and Wonder of Ordinary Life

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‘More than ever, modern life forces us to confront our own mediocrity. Our computers and phones constantly bombard us with news of the achievements of exceptional people: actors winning awards; athletes performing incredible feats; royals being praised for their beauty and philanthropy. As we sit and scroll, we can’t help but feel distinctly ordinary - and inferior - by comparison.

Consolation for our plight can come from unexpected places. Michel de Montaigne is the patron philosopher of the ordinary life. In his masterwork, the Essais, he attacks the pretensions of the aristocrats and intellectuals of his day, daring to criticise their work and achievements and reminding us of their fundamental humanity (“Kings and philosophers shit, and so do ladies”). At the same time, he venerates the lives of average, unheralded people - “In practice, thousands of little women in their villages have lived more gentle, more equable and more constant lives than Cicero.”

The next time we take stock of the success of others, we should keep Montaigne's perspective in mind and remember that wealth, fame, esteem or glory are no guide to the worth of a person, and that living a virtuous, ordinary life is achievement enough.’... The Wonders of an Ordinary Life

The Beauty and Wonder of Simple Life

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”-Henry David Thoreau

...And now let us stop and think for a moment about this pertinent question: ‘Why Small Pleasures Are a Big Deal’*

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'We’re surrounded by some powerful ideas about the sort of things that will make us happy. We think that really to deliver satisfaction, the pleasures we should aim for need to be:

Rare – we’ve inherited a Romantic suspicion of the ordinary (which is taken to be mediocre, dull and uninspiring) and work with a corresponding assumption that things that are unique, hard to find, exotic, or unfamiliar are naturally fitted to delight us more.

Expensive – we like economic endorsement. If something is cheap or free, it’s a little harder to appreciate; the pineapple (for instance) dropped off a lot of people’s wish list of fruit when its price fell from exorbitant (they used to cost the equivalent of hundreds of pounds) to unremarkable. Caviar continues to sound somehow more interesting than chicken eggs.

Famous – in a fascinating experiment a celebrated violinist once donned scruffy clothes and busked at a street corner and was largely ignored, though people would flock to the world’s great concert halls to hear him play the same pieces.

Large Scale – we are mostly focused on big schemes, that we hope will deliver enjoyment: marriage, career, travel, getting a new house.

These approaches aren’t entirely wrong, but unwittingly they collectively exhibit a vicious and unhelpful bias against the cheap, the-easily available, the ordinary the familiar and the small-scale.

As a result: if someone says they’ve been on a trip to Belize by private jet we automatically assume they had a better time that someone went to the local park by bike; we imagine that visiting the Uffizi gallery in Florence is always going to be nicer than reading a paperback novel in the back garden. A restaurant dinner at which Lobster Thermidor is served sounds a good deal more impressive than a supper of a cheese sandwich at home; it feels more normal that the highlight of a weekend should be a hang-gliding lesson, rather than a few minutes spent looking at the cloudy sky; it feels odd to suggest that a modest vase of lily of the valley (the cheapest bloom at many florists) might yield more satisfaction than a Van Gogh original.

And yet the paradoxical and cheering aspect of pleasure is how weird and promiscuous it proves to be. It doesn’t neatly collect in the most expensive boutiques. It can refuse to stick with us on fancy holidays. It is remarkably vulnerable to emotional trouble, sulks and casual bad moods. A fight that began with a small disagreement about how to pronounce a word can end up destroying every benefit of a five star resort.

A pleasure may look very minor – eating a fig, having a bath, whispering in bed in the dark, talking to a grandparent, or scanning through old photos of when you were a child – and yet be anything but: if properly grasped and elaborated upon, these sort of activities may be among the most moving and satisfying we can have.

Appreciating what is to hand isn’t a slacker’s solution. It isn’t an attack on ambition. But there is no point in chasing the future until and unless we are better at being more attuned to the modest moments and things that are presently available to us.

More fundamentally, the smallness of small pleasures isn’t really an assessment of how much they have to offer us: it is a reflection of how many good things the world unfairly neglects. A small pleasure is a great pleasure in-waiting; it is a great pleasure which has not yet received the collective acknowledgment it is due.

Appreciating small pleasures means trusting our own responses a little more. We can’t wait for everything that is lovely and charming to be approved by others before we allow ourselves to be enchanted. We need to follow the muted signals of our own brains and allow that we are onto something important, even though others may not yet be in agreement.

We are dominated by striving: for better relationships, work and personal lives. Restless, we think, is synonymous with success. Nothing should be good enough for long. But, in so concerning ourselves with unattainable levels of excellence, we overlook more modest pleasures, closer to home.’

*This article was first published in The Book of Life.

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Read and reflect more:

Make 2019 the year of simplicity, so that all may live better

What is Life's Greatest Gift?

Desperately seeking Sophia: The Wisdom of Nature

Are you physically and emotionally drained? I know of a good and cost-free solution!

A must read book

Small Pleasures

So often, we exhaust ourselves and the planet in a search for very large pleasures - while all around us lies a wealth of small pleasures, which - if only we paid more attention - could daily bring us solace and joy at little cost and effort. But we need some encouragement to focus our gaze.

This is a book to guide us to the best of life's small pleasures: everything from the distinctive delight of holding a child's hand to the enjoyment of disagreeing with someone, to the joy of the evening sky; an intriguing, evocative mix of small pleasures that will heighten our senses and return us to the world with new-found excitement and enthusiasm.

Chapters include:

  • Being Up Late at Night
  • A Book That Understands You
  • Pleasant Exhaustion After a Productive Day
  • Whispering in Bed in the Dark
  • Midnight Walks
  • Flirtation
  • Finding Your Feet Abroad
  • The Ideology of Small Pleasures

Read an extract from the book

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