Learning To Embrace The Ordinary
This essay first appeared in my newsletter, The Weekly Pep Talk. If you’d like to subscribe for a big old dose of positivity in your inbox every Sunday, you can sign up here.
It’s that time of year again when we all start looking back at the last 12 months, reflecting on our achievements and thinking about what we’ve learned. We look back at the places we’ve travelled to, count the milestones we’ve ticked off our lists, and share our annual highlight reel with the world. And then we start planning for the new year ahead, making a fresh list of goals and ambitions to work towards.
I’ve always been a big fan of this period of reflection and planning - it feels good to look back at how much we’ve achieved, and it’s fun to dream up new plans and goals. But one thing I’ve always got wrong is that I’ve only focussed on the big, glossy, glamorous stuff, like holidays or promotions or new houses or other things that would sound very exciting when I announced them on Instagram.
And of course, it’s great to celebrate those things, to feel proud of those achievements we’ve worked so hard towards. But something I’ve learned this year is that we’ll never be truly happy until we embrace the ordinary stuff too. Because the truth is, while engagements and exotic holidays are exciting and so, so special, it’s those little everyday moments that make up a life.
I always thought that the key to being happy was having more of the big stuff. I was always so focussed on getting a bigger house, or a better job, or booking a holiday that was even more impressive than the one we took last year. But as I started to acquire those things, I realised that they weren’t necessarily making me any happier. Sure, I’d thoroughly enjoy the holiday, and I’d feel really proud when I got the promotion, but as soon as the buzz wore off, life would go back to normal and I wouldn’t feel any different.
And that’s the trouble with treating our lives like one big checklist - the shine wears off, the high doesn’t last, and so you end up stuck in a perpetual cycle, always chasing after your next achievement, always telling yourself that you’ll feel happier when you get there. But I know now that that never works - to really, truly be happier we need to appreciate the everyday. We need to enjoy the journey as well as the destination, however cliched that might sound.
It’s something I’ve really tried to implement in my own life this year. I’ve tried to appreciate all those tiny, unremarkable, ordinary things that make the everyday so lovely. I’ve savoured those ten minutes every morning when I drink hot tea in bed and chat to my husband. I’ve taken real joy in closing my curtains every evening, lighting my favourite candles and sinking into the sofa. I’ve counted my blessings every time I find myself in my kitchen, testing out a new recipe and singing along to the radio.
And as I sit and write this today, I can honestly say I’m happier than I was 12 months ago. I feel more content, more at peace, more grateful for how my life looks like right now. I feel less tempted to write a big long list of stretching goals for 2019, less worried about what the future might hold. And I feel inordinately grateful that this small, unremarkable, gorgeous life is my mine.
So as I look back on 2018, I will of course remember driving along Big Sur on our honeymoon, and achieving great things at work, and drinking cocktails with my family on a rooftop bar in New York. I’ll remember those big, shiny moments and feel so grateful that I got to experience them. But I’ll also remember dancing in the kitchen with Sam, and reading books with my nephew, and laughing hysterically with my Mum and sister. I’ll remember the nights we spent curled up on the sofa with our cat, the slow and steady jogs I took along the canal, the books I read in the bath, accompanied by a glass of wine.
And as we creep ever closer to 2019, I won’t make resolutions or set lofty, stretching goals just for the sake of it, just because it seems like everyone else on Instagram is. I won’t try to convince myself that I’d be happier if I was thinner or richer or more well travelled.
Instead, I’ll wish for more of the same - more joy, more gratitude, more ordinary. A life that looks completely unremarkable to strangers on the Internet, but one that makes me count my lucky stars every single day. And I wish the same for you.