By Bob Mueller
Once our physical needs are met, the basic desires of the mind and heart remain. Simple pleasures feed our essential selves: listening to music, being outdoors, seeing a beloved face at the door, laughing all the way, knowing we did our best work, wearing clothes softened by age, reading all day, watching a flight of wild geese, and breathing deeply. Such soul food has been at our fingertips all along.
We overlook “ordinary joys” completely when we overextend our reach into the world of things. It’s time to use a paring knife to peel away unnecessary concerns. It’s time to take the pruning shears to preoccupations that sap the spirit from our lives.
Otis Redding asks us to join him: “Sittin’ on the dock of the bay watchin’ the tide roll away,” and asks us to join him “sittin’ when the evenin’ comes.” Just sitting, resting, and idling.
What is simplicity? What describes the basics for good living? Words come quickly to mind: plain, pure, uncomplicated, basic, modest, and essential. A simple lifestyle is complete in the essentials needed to live well. We can uncover or rediscover these essentials for satisfied living by streamlining our lives.
I think America’s favorite addiction is our obsession with celebrity. What in the world? Why do so many children and adults count on future fame as the solution to our problems? What’s missing from our lives that we want nothing more than to live the lives of others?
Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire could be any sleepy community of 2,000 townsfolk satisfied with their local interests and everyday routines. Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, written in 1938, captures the shared joys and sorrow of the Webb and Gibbs families between 1900 and 1913. This very popular, very American play is performed in settings ranging from school auditoriums to Broadway stages. Its simple production ensures that viewers never forget they are watching a play whose focus is the importance of enjoying precious, commonplace treasures.
An all-knowing character called the “stage manager” tells the story to the audience, speckled with his personal observations, and as he forecasts the characters’ futures, their daily lives take on urgency for viewers but unfortunately not for the characters. Emily, the central character, makes her ghostly return back in time to her twelfth birthday, poignantly realizing the significance of all the little things she took for granted. She asks the stage manager, “Doesn’t anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”
Now that it’s too late, Emily is overwhelmed by all the beauty she overlooked in her youth and laments that “we don’t even have time to look at one another.” At the play’s end, the stage manager gives his audience its charge with his announcement that tomorrow brings a new day full of precious moments. “This is the way we were,” he says. “Must this lack of awareness be the way we are?”
How can we avoid Emily’s regret and savor the lovely details of our lives? How can we learn to appreciate the little big things and see the basics for good living?
Simple joys are both abundant and easily gotten. We are surrounded by them. Be open to sensory pleasures: the taste once again of a favorite food from childhood and the warm memory that comes with it; sitting on the porch as the day slips into night and feeling on your skin the beginning of the shift of seasons; the smell of damp earth and fresh-cut grass; watching a lonely person begin to make friends; and thinking a much loved song is over when all of a sudden there’s another verse.
Bob Mueller is the vice president of Development at Hosparus.