“You could be good today, but instead you choose tomorrow.” -Marcus Aurelius
I like to read during breakfast and lunch. If I’m being totally honest, it isn’t usually books I’m reading (unless I’m in the middle of something engrossing), but rather articles – something I’ve found in my blog feed, something someone’s recommended, or something I’ve stumbled across on my own.
Today I was reading about perfect days. How your life is just a series of ordinary days. Vacations, they’re fun, but they’re not the real, everyday experience.
So if your day-to-day life isn’t up-to-snuff, then that’s a big problem. That’s your life.
As I was weeding in my garden this morning, I let these thoughts bounce around my head. What is my perfect day? A million answers emerged – I can’t settle on a template. I’m not even sure if I should.
And, am I happy in my day-to-day? If not, what am I doing wrong?
Happiness isn’t usually an external thing – not for us spoiled first-world people who don’t experience real problems. I don’t go hungry, I have a roof over my head and I’m not a victim of violence. There’s plenty of love in my life, and plenty to be grateful for. Sometimes the search for happiness seems ridiculous.
Because, really, if all my basic needs are being met – food, shelter, companionship – why shouldn’t I be happy?
And if I’m not happy, then the fault isn’t with my environment, it’s with me.
So I keep picking out weeds. There are two very specific types – one is grassy-looking, and the other is purplish and wet when you pull it from the ground. I’m picking weeds and trying to own my happiness.
(And I’m also thinking thoughts about how I kind of hate gardening, but kind of love it too. Connecting with the earth is just an essential component of being human. Then, following that, some fist-shaking “kids these days” thoughts about screen addiction.)
One major block to my happiness, I realize, is in framing. It’s in the language I use to myself. I’m going through my day thinking, “I don’t like this, I’m overwhelmed, if only this, if only that.”
What if I erased the word “overwhelm” from my internal dictionary? If I stop thinking about being overwhelmed, will I stop feeling overwhelmed?
And instead of thinking “I don’t like this” (when Jane screams in response to not getting her way, or harassing me while I’m trying to finish lunch clean-up), what if I just accepted the situation for what it is, instead of rejecting it?
And instead of thinking “If only…”, what if I started dealing in reality instead of trying to peddle a fantasy?
That’s why all these “perfect day” posts just sound like bullshit.
If you’re fathoming a perfect day, then yes, it can be motivating. It can help you get your priorities straight. Knowing the components of your perfect day can help you see what really matters to you. That’s all good, that’s not bullshit.
But as soon as you start fantasizing about your perfect day, you start resenting the little flaws in your everyday. My “perfect day” involves waking up early to practice piano. But what if I’m running on no sleep because Jane was sick in the night? What if my husband has to go to work early, and I’m unable to get fully immersed in practice because of the reality of being a mother to a small toddler?
Now my day isn’t perfect. When I look at it like that, the entire day becomes marred by this. It’s a cloud against my sunshine.
But it’s all make-believe. The cloud doesn’t exist, it’s just something I said. It’s just words.
Or maybe my perfect day involves cooking and eating something delicious. My family loves okonomiyaki. But what if Jane decides that this meal she’d rather stuff her okonomiyaki in her water glass, or eat nothing but sauce with a spoon?
I put all of this expectation into having this wonderful experience – sharing and enjoying a meal – and when it doesn’t go according to plan and the fantasy collapses, what then?
Is it better to just lose the fantasy?
Or maybe even better than losing the fantasy of a perfect day is embracing non-attachment. Don’t attach to any outcomes, que cera cera. But that’s hard. It’s really hard.
It’s language, it’s reframing, I’m sure of it. Instead of, “This child is ruining my perfect idea of dinner”, what about laughing it off? Making sideways jokes with my husband about the situation?
It’s ceding control. Life is messy and the way isn’t always paved. There are bugs in that beautiful beach image. There are slugs in the garden. If you have children, there is lots of poop.
Instead of thinking, “This is my perfect day and I’m going to iron-fist it into reality”, maybe I should simply have an outline of what my perfect day would include.
- My husband.
- My daughter.
- A friend or family member.
- Moving my body.
- Breathing fresh air.
- Waking up early.
- A project.
- Good food.
All of these, with an asterisk. All of these, not a prescription. All of these, in some capacity.
Instead of “practice piano at 6:30am”, it becomes “music”. Maybe most days I practice at 6:30am. Maybe some days I practice when my daughter goes to bed. Maybe some days I don’t practice at all, but I sing songs with her. Or we turn on Spotify and dance around.
Instead of “cook a nice meal and enjoy nice family time”, it’s just “good food”. Good food can be homemade gnocchi with sage butter sauce, and it can be pre-made veggie burgers. It can be a nice conversation with a peaceful toddler, or it can be 5-second pockets of conversation between bouts of toddler outrage.
Maybe I only breathe fresh air for five minutes while doing errands because it’s forty below. Or maybe I spend the entire spring day outdoors. Maybe I have a long and sprawling yoga session, or maybe it’s just weeding in the garden. Maybe it’s actually talking with my mom or cousin or spending time with a close friend, but maybe it’s just sending them a quick message or making someone a birthday card. Maybe it’s my daughter and I enjoying some specific, pre-arranged activity, or maybe we’re simply in the backyard with no plan and no agenda. Maybe my husband and I have a deep conversation when Jane goes to bed. Or maybe we just parallel play in silence, my feet propped up on his lap. Maybe reading isn’t always Tolstoy, and writing isn’t always striving for something. Maybe my project is getting a picture framed one day, painting with Jane the next, and decluttering one-fifth of a closet the next.
This picture is impressionist. Bright, impassioned, raw, expressive, and non-specific. Messy. It opens me up. It evokes a big yes.
Maybe the messy days can become the best days.