“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it.”
Those wonderful, wise words by the poet Mary Oliver inspire us to find joy in the everydayness of life. To love a sycamore when it sheds strips of bark and reveals its mottled trunk. To delight in seeing a dog on a hot day suddenly flip on its back, rolling around on cool grass. Or to find pleasure in returning home each day. Little moments can astonish and give joy.
“Back in the same day!” declares the father of essay writer Rebecca Turkewitz as he pulls into their driveway. He frames daily life as a series of miracles and triumphs. Whether he’s returning from grocery shopping, a family dinner out, or a movie evening, his voice lilts with these words: “Back in the same day!” How lovely it is to convert the ordinary into astonishing events, “as if it’s a great feat to arrive home at the end of our journey unscathed,” says Ms. Turkewitz.
Imagine transforming daily happenings into triumphs worthy of celebration. I can picture suggesting this to my adult daughters, who’d likely roll their eyes and exhort, “Mom, that is so Pollyannaish!” But at this time when loneliness is epidemic, adolescents are depressed in unprecedented numbers, and climate change is ravaging the world, we can turn our thoughts toward joy and appreciation for what’s good.
A common belief is that we have no control over our emotions. Of course, we feel irritated when the kids linger in bed, running late for school or camp, the parking lot at ShopRite is over-full, or when a driver cuts us off on Broad Street. But are we stuck with days full of annoyance? Or can we revise what we feel? Psychology research shows us that we can rescript these unpleasant events by converting them into routine, albeit irksome, occurrences of daily life. Not dramatic, not crushing, not woe-is-me incidents. Good moods will be swallowed by these annoyances only if we allow them to. Here are some suggested ways to revise our thoughts and, in turn, our outlook: 1. Note that many unpleasant occurrences are transient. Set your daily expectations accordingly. Dismiss the negatives and focus, instead, on what’s good.
2. Embrace yourself by subduing criticism of yourself and others and highlighting the good you do each day.
3. Grow and treasure friendships. Friends are a wellspring of joy.
4. Track your thoughts and remind yourself that you can re-work “woe is me” feelings into ones that say “life is good.”
5. Treasure Nature. “To feel wonder and surprise in the daily act of living” is Ms. Turkewitz’s dad’s gift to her and us: “‘You really just made that?’ he says with delighted skepticism when I bring a platter of French toast to the table. ‘ Oh, wow! You’re GOOD!’ he exclaims when my mom remembers where the birthday candles are kept.”
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Gratefully Yours, Patti