For a long time, I wanted to be extraordinary—to do great things, to do the things no one else was doing, to be special, to be noticed for being a cut above the rest.
Nothing felt worth doing unless it was of exceptional proportions. It was Joan of Arc / Marie Curie / J.K. Rowling or nothing.
But let me tell you: this is exhausting work. It can also be unrealistic, unpractical and sometimes just downright terrifying. In the long run, you don’t get very far. You end up not being Joan of Arc and you lose a whole lot of yourself in the process too.
I realise now that the greatest people in the world don’t set out for greatness. They set out to do something that fills their hearts and sets their world alight. They were living, breathing, loving what was ordinary to them; the extraordinary greatness that comes with it is a bonus.
And so, I see now how much value there is in learning to fall in love with what is plain and ordinary or normal. For isn’t this the cornerstone of all great things? Starting right where you are, with whoever you’re with and whatever you have. If we can’t learn to see the wonder and goodness in this now, then how will we ever really grasp even greater things beyond us?
Here, a guide for slowing down, backtracking and finding the most exquisite joy in the ordinary:
1. Schedule time for the ordinary.
We’re often off doing such grand things that we don’t allow ourselves to do the simplest, but often most enjoyable things. We think they’re not important enough, frivolous, a waste of time. But those are the very things that rejuvenate us, bring gratitude into our lives and help us find contentment amid the chaos.
Bring yourself back to basics by scheduling time for the ordinary, little things—plan two hours for a bubble bath, a full, uninterrupted hour of drinking tea and reading, a whole morning for brunch with a friend. Write it into your weekly planner if you must. And then really commit to really enjoying it (don’t try to multitask and write emails, finish reports etc!). Yes, this might be what you call “forced fun” but it’ll also help you slow right down and allow you time and love and feels all to yourself.
2. Remember the joy.
Then, journal it, talk about it, create a little happiness jar and scribble notes about all the things that bring you joy, even the teeny tiny things. This helps to bring attention to things that we might otherwise take for granted or overlook as being ‘nothing special’.
When we recall things that we’ve enjoyed—such as when we recount our experience of it to someone, or when we reread one of the scraps of paper from our happiness jar—we remind ourselves of the moment-to-moment joys and big pleasures that always exist within our days, even if life seems to be chugging along fairly quietly.
3. Be curious.
I’ve found that a way to fall in love with something that has become completely mundane is to develop a curiosity for it again. Things lose their shine when we do them routinely and just for the sake of getting them done. Instead, we can begin to look at them as if it’s the first time—even if it’s something we’ve been doing or seeing all our lives.
So, for example, doing a workout isn’t just about fulfilling my exercise quota; it becomes about tuning in more acutely to how my body feels when it’s moving, being grateful for new-found strength in my limbs, discovering a new fun dance move or a variation on an exercise. Meeting friends for dinner isn’t just about fulfilling a social obligation or eating a meal; it’s about remembering shared histories, telling stories about new experiences (which also helps with #2!) and appreciating those few hours around people who encourage you to be completely yourself.
4. Always find reasons celebrate.
We often hold off from doing all those juicy, nerve-tingling, fun-filled things until we feel we’ve done something worthy of being celebrated. We won’t wear a new dress until we have a “special occasion” for it; we won’t go dancing until we’ve met a deadline; we only eat cake on our birthday. Actually, I’ve learnt we don’t need a big old reason to feel good and joyous. If you want to go dancing, do it. Why shouldn’t you?
There is always a reason to be happy and to celebrate—it’s a new day! You’ve alive! You’re healthy! You have incredible family and friends! You found a new freckle on your cheek! Every traffic light was green today! You’ll soon realise that as you find reasons to celebrate, what’s actually happening is that you’re also finding joy in the ordinary. You’ll realise, after all, that the great, joyful, juicy things were there all along.
Jamie Khoo has loved writing and words from the moment she started to read. After getting her MA in English, she went on to pursue a career in writing and has had her work published in magazines such as Elle Malaysia and Time Out Kuala Lumpur, and websites such as elephant journal. Sick of being told by mass media and society what we should think of as “beautiful” or not, she founded the website a beauty full mind to challenge normalised beauty ideals and create new definitions and conversations about what beauty can mean for all of us today. Say hello to her on Facebook or drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.