Posted on October 13, 2004 in Features
By Miranda Valentine
Simple pleasures. You remember; the kind that didn’t require planning, extras, accessories or much money. Like the unexpected gorgeousness that is a plate of hopelessly misshapen pancakes piled high, dripping with melted butter and warmed maple syrup. Or the inexplicable thrill of jumping into a mountain of sunset-hued leaves, or sipping hot chocolate in an attempt to warm your flushed cheeks after a chilly afternoon.
I know, I know, I should have given warning that I was going to get all Norman Rockwell on you, but I couldn’t help it. You see, there is something about fall in Maine that does it to me. Any Freudian worth their salt would deduce that I relate fall with going back to school and in turn childhood memories.
As I walked through the cheerful chaos of the Fryeburg Fair, I began considering this. I saw myself in the eager faces of the children tugging their parent’s hands to go on this ride, or play that game (“the man said everyone wins!”) and for a moment as I was sifting heaps of powdered sugar onto my fried dough, I regained that sense of calm and simplicity that is synonymous with childhood joy.
Perhaps the one downside of such childhood bliss is that, at the time, you can’t possibly appreciate it. Even worse, that joy is soon replaced by all of the schedules, responsibilities and work that accompany adulthood. And yet, now that my life is far more “complex” than it was at age six, I have the ability to appreciate and enjoy those simple pleasures more than I ever could have before. But do I stop to notice them? Do I even recognize them as “enough,” after years of conditioning that tells me that things and the money that bought them are really what brings joy?
I’m not arguing that material items aren’t fabulous. Please. But I am saying that many of us have lost the balance between simple pleasures and the pleasure derived from obtaining stuff.
It really isn’t difficult to pinpoint why the balance shifted; we are an achievement-based culture, one where time is money and money is survival. These lessons are learned fairly early in life and most of us willingly take our turn in the “rat race”.
Yet more and more, people are shifting away from this outlook and are beginning to measure pleasure differently. Our culture is redefining success and seeking a “more meaningful” existence. The desire for the simple life is making a comeback (no, I’m not referring to the Paris Hilton/Nicole Ritchie train wreck); for example, the magazine “Real Simple” dedicates itself entirely to the idea of simplifying your life.
What is so great about simplification, you ask? Well, at the very least, it gives you the room and the freedom to notice and enjoy the little pleasures in life. People roll their eyes at the oft-cited clich? about stopping to smell the roses, right? But clich?’s become clich?’s for a reason: they are usually true.
For instance, when was the last time you truly enjoyed your cup of coffee/chai instead of grabbing a few scalding gulps on your way to school or work? In our world of email, blackberry’s, texts, etc, do any of us sit down to write to letters anymore? There is a simple pleasure that is often overlooked: getting mail. Remember when you were younger and mail meant birthday cards or fan club membership confirmations, not bills?
And what about others? We are all so busy/late/stressed that we don’t always take the time to show off the good manners our parents taught us. Say thank you to the cashier (and I don’t mean as a mumbled afterthought), hold the door for someone, let another car pull into the hideously long parking garage line (a girl did this for me the other day, and I was ever so grateful): you get the gist of what I’m saying.
Ok, so within the context of one column, I got all Norman Rockwell and Miss Manners preachy on you. I’m not sorry. Life is honestly too short to not stop for a moment and embrace the simple pleasures and in addition, provide one if you’re able.
We are finally at the age where we can truly appreciate the beauty of simplicity. Perhaps that is the real gift of simple pleasures; the older you get, the more capacity you have to enjoy them, as long as you just stop and well, you know.