I play with leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind.
My friend Judie has been watching a pair of nesting phoebes for several years. They build their nest in the most improbable space and tend their chicks with well coordinated teamwork. While driving along the expressway, Carol spotted a tiny fawn grazing along the median, seemingly oblivious of where its mother was. Carol added it to her gratitude list for the day. Driving on a back road, I noticed a row of cornflowers and Queen Anne’s lace framing a cornfield in a subtle blue and white border.
None of these are earthshaking spectacles. Without an eye for the little things, they would all be easy to miss. It seems much easier for us to notice all the terrible things which bombard us each day and the worries which follow us around. If we allow it to happen, all the awful things in life can overwhelm us. Sometimes things which brighten our day take a special effort to notice.
Henry Thoreau wrote his memoir, WaldenU, in the nineteenth century. He described his practice of writing down the things for which he was grateful each day before getting out of bed. Oprah also suggested Thoreau’s practice, described as a gratitude list, a way of keeping in touch with the good things in our daily lives. In order to list things for which we are grateful, we must pay attention to them and savor them as they happen. Some days it seems easy to generate a long list, and some days our troubles seem to block out the good things, making them harder to remember.
The little things are usually subtle and, without practice, easy to overlook. Nevertheless, they are all around and waiting for us to notice them. The above examples are all from nature, but there are many other delights as well. A kind word, a loving gesture, or a small favor can all brighten our day if we let them.
The things we notice and choose to think about influence what kind of person we are and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world. If we constantly tune into tragedy, crime and conflict, we will undoubtedly become morose and negative about the world and eventually about ourselves. If we make an effort to notice the day’s little gifts, we will have a brighter outlook on life despite our troubles.
Having a positive outlook can be contagious. A young woman I know, Megan, is so consistently cheerful, even when things are not going right for her, it is impossible to spend any time with her and not come away feeling more cheerful yourself.
We all have the choice of what to notice and think about. We can choose to descend into the doldrums or look for the joy in life. It might take some practice but we do have a choice and can brighten our lives and the lives of those around us as well.
Life Lab Lessons
- Slow down the pace of your life for a little while.
- Look around you.
- Find something marvelous you did not see before.
- Keep this new discovery in your mind.
- Return to it when you become frustrated.