Welcoming an Ordinary Life

We live in a society that glorifies achievements and possessions. We love hero and rags to riches stories. It is admirable to embrace one’s true self, respond to a calling, and achieve remarkable things. However, the over culture’s judgement of what is worthy and honourable may be at times very misguided. It leads to a constant ache of never being “good enough.” Popular culture may be promoting that a simple and ordinary life is of less value. What if one’s calling is to be a modest family-oriented person or someone who is helpful in their community?

Jeroen Van Baar during his Ted talk describes a psychological study about two types of people, maximizers and satisficers.[1] Maximizers are people who desire the best possible outcome of each choice. They tend to earn 20% more money than satisficers. They spend more time and effort in gaining the ideal result. They seek external validation for their choices based on reputation and status. Maximizers feel doubt about whether they could have made a better choice than others and engage in social comparison. Satisficers are people who feel their choices are good enough. They have less regrets, more happiness and better self-esteem than maximizers.[2]

When people have too many choices it creates anxiety.[3] Picture the movie Babe in the scene when Arthur Hogget spent months creating a beautiful handmade dollhouse for his granddaughter. When she opens her gift, she cries, “I wanted the one I saw on the television.” Although this child’s behaviour is extreme, many people feel that things are never enough. This stems from an internal feeling of lack rather than being spoiled or catered to. Modern-day media promotes the value of achievement, goods, money, looks and subsequently harsh judgement. Society has moved away from things that bind us, human connectedness, compassion, spirituality, charity, and warmth. It is remarkable that the countries with the lowest risk of suicide are developing countries such as Barbados and Venezuela. The saying that money does not buy happiness is mostly true. Research has shown that a certain amount of money provides security and happiness. Researchers have found that beyond a certain number, happiness does not increase exponentially.[4]

As an art therapist and psychotherapist, I see many people suffering from anxiety and depression who have the notion of being remarkable equals being worthy. This can come from one’s upbringing and societal messages. Social media messages praise lofty achievements, beauty and people who do not look their age. Marketers use media and news to control our views, beliefs, and spending. They often create consumers by playing on our pain points creating a feeling of lack. Social comparison online whisks away happiness. The feeling of not being good enough turns up the volume on people’s internal critic.

Society would be wise to return to honouring the blessings of living a prudent and ordinary life. People could feel satisfied and happier. Joy can come from life’s simple things. Could we admire a simple man who worked in a gas station and who never asked for more? He takes pride in doing an excellent job at work. He is happy with little, but he is kind. He loves his wife and children and serves his community. When I was young, there was an elderly single woman who lived on my street. She was the kindest lady. I played outside on hot days; she would signal for me to come in for a glass of juice. She watched out for us. Although as a child I did not think much of it as an adult, I remember her kindness and caring. I do not have a memory of people around me who looked pretty, took over corporations and climbed the social ranks.

The fact that we are here and living in our bodies is utterly amazing. The chances of being born are one in four hundred trillion.[5] We are each given our body because only we are destined to be us. Allow space for gratefulness and the joy of small things. There will always be something brewing in this life. Can we feel joy in simple things like the warmth of the sun on your face, helping your friend fix their flat tire, a silly joke with your sibling, the taste and touch of a warm cup of tea or the smell of fresh sheets? Could you have goals but still love yourself and the simple blessings of life in the meantime? True power and peace lie in validation and happiness from within. It is a sad paradox that people who have it “all” and are high achieving are not as happy as those who are not. We can sit with the simplicity of life, have a few goals and embrace ourselves? We can definitely learn to do so.

Heather Caruso is an art therapist and Registered Psychotherapist in Guelph Ontario. For more information go to www.arttherapyguelph.com

[1] Van Baar, J. (April 2015). Average is Awesome: Embracing Mediocrity as the Key to Success. Youtube. Retrieved from  https://youtu.be/JDDGhGiaAZU.

[2] Heshmat, S. (June 2015). Satisficing vs. Maximizing. Psychology Today. Retrieved from Satisficing vs. Maximizing | Psychology Today

[3] Clinehens, J. (May 2019). The Choice Overload Effect: Why simplicity is the key to perfecting your experience. Medium. Retrieved from The Choice Overload Effect: Why simplicity is the key to perfecting your experience | by Jennifer Clinehens | Choice Hacking | M The Choice Overload Effect: Why simplicity is the key to perfecting your experience | by Jennifer Clinehens | Choice Hacking | Medium edium

[4] Berger, m. (Jan 2021). Money Matters to Happiness. Penn Today. Retrieved from Money matters to happiness—perhaps more than previously thought | Penn Today (upenn.edu)

[5] Being born, Are You a Miracle? On the Probability of Your Being Born | HuffPost Life