Getting More by Enjoying the Little Things

I seem to have this inner voice that tells me that there’s always SOMETHING I can be working on to “better myself.” Yet always trying to stay busy and “productive” actually seems to make me less productive, more worn out, and less focused when it’s really time to buckle down and get to work. This all probably seems obvious. Nevertheless, it’s amazing to me how hard it can be for me to actually slow down, relax, take a breath. I bring this up now because this past Friday night really reminded me how much I benefit from taking time–MAKING time, in fact–to enjoy the little things in life. Here’s what happened. For dinner, I made one of my specialities, cheeseburgers, accompanied by some salad and oven crisped Brussel sprouts. Since this was one of our “weekend meals,” my wife and I enjoyed it with a few glasses of wine (see story note 1)After dinner, we fired up the Super Nintendo that a gracious friend recently gave us and proceeded to blunder, curse, laugh, and strategize our way through a few levels of Donkey Kong Country (see story note 2).

Doing the little things (like enjoying a meal with a loved one or with friends, laughing and telling stories, joining forces with your spouse to play Donkey Kong Country) helps bring you back to the present, connect you with your past, and fuel your creativity. What you do to play and/or relax doesn’t have to be actually “playing” at anything, either. It can be reading quietly, going for a walk, not being on your phone, meditating, or just looking out the window and thinking. The point is to take time to step back from the busyness of everyday life. Each day, do things other than work. Do things that you enjoy, and do things that help your mind and body slow down. This can mean something as basic as taking a few deep breaths in your office before starting the workday. Also, what you do for fun and relaxation would ideally entail doing something that doesn’t involve technology in the form of computers, tv, and smartphones (unless you’re actually using your phone to call someone who makes you happy). I’m not trying to browbeat anyone for using technology–I’m not a Luddite or anything–and I’m definitely someone who has a lot of trouble unchaining myself from my phone. I’m just emphasizing the importance of  doing things that make you think, smile, and be more mindful. When you’re fully engaged in the present moment, you are able to let go, if only for a bit, of some of the anxiety and busyness that is part of everyday life. I’ve found that when I’m able to grasp one of these fleeting moments of mindfulness, I come back to “real life” with increased energy, focus, and creativity.

In the spirit of the academic that I used to pretend to be, I’m going to close by relating my specific point to a larger one. In Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson does a fine job of explaining how, across history, societal change and significant innovations have stemmed from individuals’ hobbies, distractions, and “space[s] of wonder and delight.” Otherwise put, Johnson is arguing that “you will find the future wherever people are having the most fun” (15). So, remember to seek out your own “space[s] of wonder and delight.” I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the unexpected benefits that you’ll get in return.

Story Notes

  1. We had Kim Crawford Rosé, which seems to be a pretty reasonably priced option as far as rosé wine goes. It has a screw-top bottle, so it’s not super fancy but neither is it Carlo Rossi, Franzia, or—for those with an especially discerning palate—MD 20/20 (no offense to those who prefer these three).
  2. Like many children of the late 80s-90s, I used to LOVE playing Nintendo. My brother and I (and my mom, too, though she still doesn’t like to admit it) logged many hours on Nintendo systems. We went from inevitably failing on the Axis Chemicals level of the Batman game (NES) to traveling through time with the Ninja Turtles in pursuit of Shredder (SNES) to trekking to Blockbuster Video to rent–and re-rent–GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo 64) to playing season after season (after season) of college football (GameCube). Ask me about Nintendo in the 1990s and early 2000s, and you’ll get a warm smile and a friendly conversation. Ask me about Sega, and you’ll get an icy glare and an uncomfortable silence (I’m just kidding, this isn’t quite that much of a concern for me; also, I was allowed to rent a Sega Genesis on special occasions. And I owned a Game Gear).

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