The Significance of Ordinary Bliss
Don't let ordinary happiness pass without acknowledgment; savor it. Treaure it.
Posted Apr 11, 2018
Never, ever take for granted the glory of a day when nothing bad happens.
Today, as I'm overwhelmed by deadlines, preparing a paper for a conference in South Carolina and getting afraid of the plane (yes, still; yes, always), it just struck me how incredibly lucky I am.
I didn’t want this to be another one of those blissful days that goes by without acknowledgment.
Yes, a “blissful day.” Flooded with anxiety, fear and a wish to hide under the bed, it contains the pleasure of the quotidian. William Wordsworth wrote “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven!” about the French Revolution of 1789 (not exactly a relaxing time) and the line captures the all-inclusive and extensive notion of bliss.
I had a good breakfast, spent time sitting at the table reading paper with my husband, had the privilege of drinking coffee in a dry and quiet house. I live indoors, have cats and my health. Am I the world's most fortunate woman or what? Everyday bliss.
It’s these most ordinary days we’ll long for and what we’ll miss fiercely when they’re taken from us. I suspect we’ll miss these more than their flashier counterparts.
The idea of being in middle of happiness and not knowing it unnerves me because it happened a lot when I was younger. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t know how good I had it, but that I wasn’t able to offer myself permission to enjoy what I couldn’t prove was somehow worthwhile.
We might replay extraordinary times on our life’s timelines — the first day of school, graduations, first paychecks, the celebration of a job well done — but it’s the long stretches in between in which our lives are truly made.
The much-photographed and hip-hip-hoorayed times remain, however, embellishments on what the makers of cotton have now copyrighted as “the fabric of our lives.”
Those special days are like glittery bedazzler stuck onto the ordinary and often overlooked backdrop of time. I believe that’s what the ancient Greeks were trying to explain when they distinguished between “chronos” (ordinary=cotton) and “kairos” (important time=rhinestones and a glue-gun).
Remember the cotton ads from the 1980s and ‘90s? Every time one of those gooey and sentimental, yet perfectly self-contained, pieces appeared, I lost it entirely. I had to leave the room or wreck my mascara. There had been the funerals of relatives where I’d experienced a less complex emotional response.
Sure, I was weeping over the need to choose a certain kind of textile, but what I was weeping over — along with other millions of viewers easily swayed by nostalgia, soft-focus and the implied promise that a high thread count somehow leads to higher consciousness — was the commercial’s emphasis on cherishing the everyday.
Almost any ad invoking the quick and almost unnoticed passage of time grabs us. A pretty funny Subaru commercial shows a 5-year-old taking the car to the ATM, a car wash, etc., closing with the narrator saying that it might be years before he can actually drive the car but that it’ll be waiting for him when he’s ready because it’s such a reliable vehicle.
The subtext to the ad is that your kid will be an adult within 90 seconds. For a lot of folks, thinking about that will send them on a mission to purchase a Lamborghini, a Harley or 1967 GTO even if it means heading to a loan shark first.
They might also ask, as did one member of my family, to have the keys buried with them.
More than the days of magnificent accomplishment or great passion, I suspect that most of us would hug the everyday most tightly if someone tried to pry it way from us.
We should remind ourselves that, along with days of glory, garden-variety moments of satisfaction are also fleeting. Our ordinary days need cultivation and attention: They are what we harvest in our lifetimes.