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The Pleasures of an Ordinary Life

One year, feeling like I was living a hopelessly ordinary life, feeling mired in the mundane and left behind by more adventurous friends, I was longing for a life of something more.

Woman holding a bouquet of lush white flowers and smiling

I wanted to be wealthier, and maybe even, just a little famous, at least in my field. I wanted success in a career I choose, not in a job that had chosen me. I wanted to stop struggling to find the good life, struggling to hit the happiness destination. I wanted to travel, at least, and live a little bit of the life of glamour and adventure before I hit my expiration date.

So, I set a goal. An extra big, extra juicy, extra outsized, extraordinary goal. One I was sure would make me happy. No more settling for the ordinary. I was determined I would be on the path to extraordinary. My first goal was crazy, audacious. It was downright outlandish, but it was also terribly exciting.

I think we’re all pushed and sold on the idea that living a bigger life will make us happy. That having more — more money, more fame, more things, more experiences, more accolades — will automatically transfer into lasting, stable happiness. We’ll have done it, we’ll have reached our destination.

Is it true though? Can achieving a big dream make you happy? Sure, there’s the dopamine rush of the big wins, and the excitement of tackling the next new challenge, but those things fade relatively quickly. They aren’t lasting. It’s roller coaster ride of fun and excitement, but also of the inevitable misery and losses that come with pursuing anything worthwhile.

But happiness? It’s been notably, surprisingly missing.

Pursuing the extraordinary has grown me, stretched me as a person, it ’s given me a new sense of meaning and purpose, and a spring in my step on occasion, but it hasn’t made me happier.

And I don’t think it’s just me. I’ve had friends who have made it to a million dollars, moved to France, published their book, won the award, and yet, no one ever made it to the big dream, mission accomplished, and suddenly became happier than they had been before, not over the long haul.

That’s not to say that happiness has eluded me in my life. On the contrary. It’s just not been found where I expected to find it. And it’s often looked less like continual, ongoing, endless excitement, and more like, contentment. In fact, it’s often been hidden in plain sight, tucked among the one thing I’ve so often been ignoring — my ordinary life.

The simple pleasures of a life well lived. It’s the joy of crisp sheets on a freshly made bed, the smell of Fall in the air, the sight of bright orange pumpkins at the market, noticing the leaves turning yellow and orange on a favorite walk. It’s birdsong and sunshine with that first sip of very good coffee. It’s a cat purring, the dog’s tail thumping, or a hug from a four year old. It’s sharing a laugh with an old friend.

Lasting happiness, for me, has largely found in enjoying the simple pleasures of my life right now, just as it is, without needing it to be extraordinary at all. Turns out happiness is closer than you think. Which doesn’t mean we have to give up on living our wildest, biggest dreams. We don’t have to settle for an ordinary life to be happy.

It’s a delicate balancing act between living out the extraordinary, pursuing excellence, seeing what we are capable of achieving, and loving our very ordinary lives through it all. Which means we can’t afford to ignore it while we’re pursuing grander things. And we can’t pretend that a larger, more glamorous life will magically make us happy or exempt us from the mundane.

And in fact, it’s these moments of ordinary happiness that can help us to continue to pursue our goals even when the chips are down. No matter what the loss, the balm of ordinary pleasures can help to shore us up to try yet again tomorrow. And when we’re winning? When we’ve reached the mountain top? We know we have a baseline of contentment and joy to return to once the high is over.

Turns out you don’t need to get anywhere to be happy after all. And that’s one of the most beautiful and profound things my pursuit of the extraordinary has taught me: the gifts and the pleasures of ordinary. So here’s to being ordinary!

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Have a wonderful week, see you next Wednesday!



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