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!)

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

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

    • Oh and it’s funny. I went to the Prado yesterday. It was on my to do list here in Madrid and it kept getting put off due to the kids’ disinterest. It was beautiful, but I have to say that the daily life here, the food, the buildings, the people are a thing of even greater beauty.

  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.

  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.

    • Love this, Anne! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. So inspiring–I will keep it in mind as I cultivate the intention to get my *own* button sewn back.

  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.

Comments are closed.