30 small things (aka Life Experiment #6)

There are no large plea­sures in life, only small ones,” a much older boyfriend once pro­nounced to an impres­sion­able 25-year-old me. He paused for a moment, reflect­ing. “Except maybe the Prado or the Louvre.”

I’ve already been to both,” I ventured.

Well.…” He raised his hands as if to say: “So, that’s that!”

The older I get, the more I take his point. Not that there aren’t large plea­sures and that they aren’t, well plea­sur­able. But the qual­ity of our days, and thus our lives, is largely deter­mined by small things.

Mulling over pos­si­ble Life Exper­i­ments for June, I hit on the idea of doing one (small) nice thing for myself each day. Given that June 1—today—is my birth­day, this seems espe­cially apt. Plus it’s also in line with my ongo­ing quest for more play­ful­ness and fun.

Last month’s Life Exper­i­ment involved Doing Less. With­out going into a lot of detail, I’ll say that, strictly speak­ing, you could count it as a fail­ure. In fact, if my goal had been to Do More, you might say I’d triumphed.

But this isn’t the whole story. More and more, I see these Life Exper­i­ments as plant­ing seeds. The fruit they bear won’t nec­es­sar­ily be within a pre­dictable time frame. This hit home for me a few weeks back when I signed up for a dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy class that starts next week. As reg­u­lar read­ers may recall, my Photo-a-Day exper­i­ment lasted just a few days. But now, here I am return­ing to the ter­rain I staked out then. The seed I planted is tak­ing root, just not the way I planned.

When I sat down to the make the list of 30 small things, I had the idea of small pleasures—a mas­sage, a din­ner out with friends, new run­ning shoes—but as I started to write, what leaped to mind were small nag­ging tasks. Exhibit A would be the sweater with a but­ton that’s been wait­ing to be sewn back on for some­thing like 10 years. (In a novel this might be a metaphor, but in my life, it’s fact.)

In Life Coach-land such tasks-in-waiting are known as “tol­er­a­tions” and are said to be con­stant drains on our store of energy. In any case, I’m pretty sure I’d feel bet­ter with a shorter list. Mas­sages and restau­rant din­ners are nice, but so is cre­at­ing order. My hypoth­e­sis: Get­ting that but­ton sewn back will make me unrea­son­ably happy.

Life Exper­i­ment #6: Do once small nice thing for your­self each day—which may mean plea­sur­able in the doing but could also mean plea­sur­able in the sense of feeling-happier-having-done-it. (Hi there, sweater and button!)

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “30 small things (aka Life Experiment #6)

  1. I’m a firm believer in small kind­nesses to one­self. Back when I was a recent arrival in Plan B Nation, I would make a point of tak­ing a break every day at around 2 p.m. from my searching-for-jobs and fretting-about-my-life’s-direction to walk the dog, rain or shine. We both felt bet­ter for it. I also cooked myself break­fest every day, and made myself tea, a rit­ual that I enjoy. Unfor­tu­nately, I also reached a point where the lit­tle kind­nesses just weren’t enough, and the frets and stresses of life got to me. It wasn’t pretty (but for­tu­nately my depres­sion lasted for only a day or so). So I guess I learned that liv­ing in Plan B Nation can be more dif­fi­cult than peo­ple real­ize (cer­tainly I didn’t at the time) and some­times the dam that the lit­tle kind­nesses build can be breached with­out warn­ing. Ugh, sorry for the downer of a com­ment, but as always, an excel­lent post because it got me thinking.

    By the way, happy birthday!

    • I love those exam­ples, Matthew–they make me want to go down­stairs & make tea and maybe even get a dog to walk. :-)

      That said, I really appre­ci­ate you mak­ing the point that such things aren’t panaceas. I often quote my pro­fes­sor Bob Kegan’s obser­va­tion that we grow through “stretch not break” chal­lenges. Each of us has a point of overwhelm–it dif­fers from per­son to per­son, and even for the indi­vid­ual it varies depend­ing on life cir­cum­stances, among other things.

      And: Thanks for the birth­day wishes! Much appre­ci­ated.
      amy gut­man recently posted…Wubby’s (sort of) mea culpa: I may not always be an Angel, but I have my reasons.My Profile

  2. I was reflect­ing on this very issue of “tol­er­a­tions” today, although i didn’t know the term. Today was a very cold day — an unsea­son­ably cold, more like March than June sort of day. A few months ago, I came across a cash­mere sweater that I wore fre­quently in the mid-90’s in a chest of draw­ers, wait­ing for a few miss­ing but­tons to be re-attached. I had seen the but­tons for it just the day before. Right then, I decide to sew the miss­ing but­tons in place. Later, I decide that it was a silly thing to do, because the sweater is so worn — and out of fash­ion — that I won’t wear it in pub­lic. Still, I put it back in my closet. Today, as I reached for some­thing warm, with­out both­er­ing to turn on the light in the dim closet, I grabbed this sweater. I smiled think­ing about how com­fort­able it is, and just per­fect for a cold Spring day. So what that it is no longer fash­ion­able — I like this sweater and it makes me happy to wear it! I don’t know why I waited years to sew that but­ton on, let­ting the sweater sit unworn for years, a task on the never-ending to-do list. I thought about how small things like this should not be viewed as chores or tasks, but rather as a kind­ness to one­self. Wear­ing that sweater that was just per­fect for today, gave me com­fort far beyond the soft­ness and warmth of the fab­ric. Next time, maybe I won’t wait so long to fix — or at least hold myself hostage to the task at hand.

    Good luck with your Daily Kind­ness to Self exper­i­ment! You deserve to be nice to you! May your kind­nesses keep you soft and warm.
    Anne Camille recently posted…Weekly Photo Chal­lenge: TodayMy Profile

  3. I love the notion of the plea­sure from a task done!
    Some­where, years ago, I read that in some cul­ture (not one I knew) there is a tra­di­tion that when you make some­thing, after it is fin­ished, you set it aside in an eas­ily viewed spot of honor and admire it for a while before actu­ally using it.

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