How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard, BrainyQuote.com
There is something special about enjoying the ordinary things we do every day.
A cup of good coffee in the morning, cats greeting me with a purr, a joke shared with my husband, the fresh smell of clean laundry, time spent in my garden — these are some of the ordinary things that bring pleasure to my days.
The routines and satisfactions that make a day are ultimately the routines and satisfactions that make a life.
Yes, there are special days. There are times of celebration — birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, vacations, and annual holidays such as Thanksgiving.
There are also days that we remember because of some event in our lives or in history. It could be the day that someone dear to you passed away or a day that you started/ended a job or the day when President Kennedy was assassinated.
Most of our memories come from days of celebration or from important events. These are often the times when photos are taken to mark the occasion; the photos help trigger memories.
There are more Ordinary Days
But it’s the ordinary times when we do everyday things that really make a life.
Most of us have more ordinary days than special days so paying attention to achieving happiness on ordinary days gives a big payoff.
Mundane activities like doing the ironing, sorting a junk drawer, paying bills, buying groceries, preparing meals, scrubbing a shower stall, or pulling weeds in the garden fill our days.
Most days are filled with the mundane so it is easy to forget that these ordinary events really define our lives.
Pay attention to the ordinary
I’m learning that my happiness increases when I pay more attention to the ordinary and every day things that take up most of my time.
I’m trying to be observant of how I perform these everyday tasks. Here are some of the strategies I use to make routines pleasurable.
1. I try to appreciate something beautiful every day. It might be the perfect cup of coffee, an email from a friend, my husband’s smile, or watching a chipmunk scurry around the patio. Seeing the beautiful aspects of ordinary events or the things around me creates a sense of gratitude and makes me smile.
2. I try to practise kindness. This begins with kindness to myself and extends to others. I am careful with my ‘self-talk’ trying not to be critical when I make a mistake. I also work hard to forgive others when they make mistakes.
3. I enjoy the rituals of the day. Whether it’s a breakfast routines like laying the table with pretty dishes or bedtime routines like flossing to care for my teeth, taking a few extra minutes to follow a pattern of predictable actions increases the joy in habits and routines.
4. I do at least one thing that brings joy. By doing something I love, I lift my spirits and find that everyday activities are more enjoyable. Sometimes it’s as simple as singing in the shower, or taking some time for day dreaming, or setting aside time to indulge in one of my favourite hobbies.
5. I do at least one thing that is ‘productive’. Perhaps this is the carry-over from years in the workforce or, the well-ingrained Protestant work ethic, but if I don’t do something from my lengthy ‘to do’ list, my day doesn’t feel as worthwhile. It may be a big job like preparing for weekend guests or a smaller chore like organizing the front hall closet. Regardless, the resulting sense of accomplishment makes the day happier for me.
6. I try to honour the ordinary with gratitude. I am grateful for basics like hot water from my taps, fresh veggies from the market, the smell of clean laundry from the dryer and the comfort of my reading chair.
7. Finally, I try to live in harmony with my values. Values like fairness, justice, love and truth are important to me. By making daily choices consistent with my values, I live in harmony with my inner self.
In realizing that a good deal of my retirement happiness comes from finding joy in the everyday and the ordinary, I have learned to treasure the unremarkable. By this time next week, I may not remember the particulars of today — but my perceptions will make it part of my lifetime of retirement happiness.