We are often lead to believe that the only things worth celebrating in life are major events – things that we have had to work hard and sacrifice for. For example graduation, a new job, buying a house. The list goes on. However, an average person’s life is made up of far more days when nothing out of the ordinary occurs. Should our conclusions be then, that the vast majority of our lives must be spent in a mundane sort of stupor waiting for the next significant event to come along? Definitely not! Instead, we must begin to take pleasure in the simple things in life; the little moments that we often undervalue. We can count on mindfulness to help us do so, and in this article, we’ll be breaking down how, and why enjoying the simple pleasures of this is so very important.
Why do we value certain achievements?
Before we begin discussing the importance of the simple pleasures in life, we will first try to explain why many of us have such a problem appreciating them in the first place.
In our contemporary Western society, we are taught that hard work leads to success. What we gain in this success is therefore notable, and worth celebrating. Furthermore, we are often far more goals driven than values-driven. This means that rather than taking time to enjoy our education while we are studying, we are constantly looking forward to our graduation. Or instead of looking for a partner because we value companionship and family, we will look for a partner only to satisfy the expectation of marriage by a certain age. These are only a couple of examples of where we may live with a destination in mind, and forget to enjoy the journey, but we’ll go into more detail in just a moment.
Identifying the simple pleasures in your life
The first step towards enjoying the simple things in life is to actually identify what those things are to you. There will probably be many things that pop into your head when you think about ‘simple pleasures’, but they may not all work for you. When you’re trying to identify your own personal simple pleasures try to consider a couple of features; how do they fit into your daily life, are they expensive, do they take a lot of effort or planning? For something to truly be a simple pleasure, it should really be inexpensive, or free, easily achieved as part of our daily routine, and not requiring us to do a lot of preparation in order to perform it.
Here is a short list of activities that may be considered simple pleasures; again they are not for everyone, but might guide your own exploration of what a simple pleasure is to you:
- Reading a book.
- A sip of coffee.
- Taking a bath.
- Brewing a pot of tea.
- Taking a walk in nature.
- Enjoying a beautiful view.
- Hot shower in a cold day.
- Writing in a journal.
- Talking on the phone with a loved one.
- Fresh sheets.
- Clean email inbox.
- Delicious food.
- Family life.
- A fresh shower after exercising.
These are just a few ideas to guide you, but there is a clear theme here. These activities are probably things you already take part in most days of your life, but rush through. By rushing these activities we will never be able to truly appreciate them, or gain any value from them. And if we are particularly busy or stressed, these may be the things that we give up first without properly considering their importance.
So, how do we find the correct balance in our lives to be able to both be productive in the traditional sense of education, work and chores, while still giving ourselves enough time to embrace the simple pleasures in our life. The answer is to slow down.
How to slow down
One of the first steps you need to take in order to begin enjoying the simple pleasures in life is to slow down. Life can appear to move so quickly from one thing to the next that we don’t even get the chance to stop and appreciate what’s happening from moment to moment. While we are usually consumed with thoughts of our next obligation, we need to try to find a way to give time to the simple things.
This can appear a very difficult thing to do; if life is busy then life is busy, there’s not a lot we can do about that. But in truth, we have more power over this than we might think.
When our minds are constantly focussed on the next thing on our to-do list then we don’t even realise the time passing. It is in these moments when our minds are pre-occupied with planning and worrying that we miss the simple pleasures. We must work to become more mindful, and try to draw our attention to the present moment in order to combat this. By doing so we will be able to not only draw our attention to the moments from which we can find daily joy, but life will also appear to slow down. That is the real trick, it isn’t about cutting things from your life unnecessarily, or sacrificing your goals and aspirations; what it’s really about is keeping your mind present and in the moment so that you can appreciate the little things and live by your values, while still achieving your goals.
Goals and values
We’ve mentioned a few times now this choice between our goals and our values. This disparate coupling is very important when it comes to enjoying the little things in life, so let’s discuss briefly what they mean.
Our goals are things that we wish to achieve in our lives. Generally, they are things that we believe will either bring us more opportunities, wealth or status, or they will signify that we have achieved a level of wealth or status. For example, exam grades and degrees, buying a car, becoming a homeowner, a dream job, marriage. The list could go on, but this hopefully reflects the types of things that we mean by ‘goals’.
A value on the other hand is something that we believe to be important. Our values can steer our direction in life if we let them. They may not be related to a particular outcome, like marriage, but will potentially get us there anyway, like valuing love and family. If we try to live according to our values then we will still achieve our goals, we may even achieve things we didn’t realise were important to us.
How to appreciate the simple pleasures
I’m sure you’re wondering now how exactly are you meant to enjoy the simple pleasure of life? Well, we’ve already mentioned trying to live by our values and not by our goals, as well as trying to slow down our lives. But what really underpins each of these is living mindfully.
The best way to make sure that we are living mindfully is actually to take moments in our day to practise mindfulness. When we practise mindfulness during our daily lives we will give ourselves the chance to stop looking forwards or backwards and to just be in the moment. But if you’re unfamiliar with how you can practise mindfulness throughout your day, here is a brief guide that can help you.
- You can either stop what you are doing, or continue.
- Draw your attention to your breath (this will ground you in the current moment).
- Notice your breath entering and leaving your body.
- Next, firmly plant your feet on the ground and draw your attention to this sensation, (this can also work if you are walking).
- Keep your attention and awareness directed at the breath or your feet on the ground, any time it moves to the future simply draw it back with compassion and patience.
This is a great way to introduce mindfulness into your life; you are simply making sure that your awareness is directed at the current moment. You can then stamp this technique onto your simple pleasures in an effort to enjoy them, and not feel like you need to rush through them.
You can take a mindful bath, where you make sure all your attention is directed towards the feeling of the warm water, the smell of your bubble bath, or the sound of the bubbles popping and crackling around you.
You can take a mindful walk, noticing the feeling of the breeze on your face, the sound of the birds or traffic depending on where you are walking, and the feeling of your feet hitting the ground.
Again, we could go on and on telling you how to be mindful of your simple pleasures. The point is, by using mindfulness strategies you will be able to fully enjoy and appreciate the simple pleasure in the moment, and not be distracted from them by worrying thoughts of the future. Your focus will shift from your never-ending to-do list, and to the small things that will bring you joy every day.
So, stop waiting around for those big moments in life to celebrate or feel joy, take the opportunity, using mindfulness, to do so every day and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.
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