“If you are to live a beautiful life, you first must begin to live beautiful days. To live beautiful days, you must also think of beautiful things and events, even if these things and events seem silly …” So wrote Friedman and Rosenman in a book with the unlikely title of Type A Behavior and Your Heart. I like the idea of beautiful days, especially if they involve doing things that may seem silly. In this blog, I explore the importance of being non-earnest, and of finding the deepest meaning in exploring our wants.
Recently I’ve been less busy than usual – and I normally try to avoid being busy at all. With great relief I’ve finished writing a book called Simplify. It was far from simple to write and if I’d known the effort it would cause, I don’t think I would have started it. I have another book proposal which I’ve sent off to my agent Sally, and I’m waiting to hear from her. I have been in touch with all my main investments. So for the moment I have nothing to do, and I’m having some really beautiful days.
But this is not about my beautiful days, but yours. The first thing you have to do is to spend ten minutes writing down as many things you want to do – some in your lifetime, some every day. I’m working from a chapter in the excellent book, Staying OK, by Amy and Tom Harris, in which they provide a sample list of 75 sublime, sexy, and silly “wants”. Here are a few of them so you get the idea:
A red sports car, a tan, a million dollars, a dog, pretty teeth, my name in lights, to play the piano, a shower, find someone nice and rich to marry, lemon meringue pie, plant a rose garden, play dominoes, laugh, tell the boss off, go for a walk.
So now you have ten minutes to write at least 50 wants, straight off the top of your head with no time for thought.
Now you’ve got your list, write each want into one of the four boxes on the chart I’ve provided here:
You can start with the bottom-left part of the box, things that don’t require money and can be done alone. Select at least two of these things that you will do today, or, if it’s already late, tomorrow. Then plan for the next day with two or more items from the bottom-right box – and find a friend to do the things with. And so on. However you do it, do two or more beautiful things each day. If you have the luxury of time, as I do at the moment, choose four or five “wants” to do in the whole day. When you run out of points from your original list, spend another ten minutes generating a new one. If you feel in the mood, do the exercise with a friend or even a group of people, perhaps having a drink to loosen the imagination. As Amy Harris says, “If we know what we want, we probably can get a lot more out of life than we think. Quantities of energy are released when we finalize at least some objectives and cease our endless indecision.”
The 3 Needs of Our Inner Child
According to Amy Harris, there are three:
We come from the dark, warm, and rocking womb, and security is the first need of the child. We cling to our mother, we find comfort in defining and hanging on to my room, my bed, my teddy, my dad. We don’t like it when mum disappears even briefly, or when strangers appear and make a noise.
But gradually, security is supplemented, and even compromised, by another need:
Small children are consumed by curiosity and the thirst for novelty. “Fifty per cent of human skill and knowledge,” according to Gabor Von Varga, a child psychologist, “is gained in the first four years of life.” Words, sentences, colors, symbols, and all the wonders of an iPad are there to be marvelled at and unravelled. The popular scientist Buckminster Fuller said that every kid comes equipped with a vast collection of alarm clocks, set to go off in his or her head, triggered by some chance event or glimpse at meaning. And the more secure young children are, the farther they will dare to roam in search of new knowledge and experiences.
But there is a third need of our inner child, one that grows throughout our lives, and that is meaning. Amy Harris nicely defines meaning as “a conviction of personal significance with some relationship to the surrounding universe”, a sense that we belong because of who we are, what we do, and our relationships with other human beings. We can have all the security that is available; we can search endlessly for gratification, new experiences, and pleasure; but we will never be fully happy without a deep sense of personal meaning. Although Amy Harris doesn’t say so explicitly, I think it’s clear that meaning comes most of all from loving and being loved, and from a sense of self-worth derived from achievement and being useful to other people. But one thing she does say, to close this section, which is wise: “Security, novelty, and meaning; the greatest of these is meaning.”
Beautiful Days and Meaning
But what is the connection between beautiful days and meaning? Beautiful days and security? Beautiful days and novelty? Aren’t beautiful days just self-indulgent interludes between the real business of living – finding security, novelty and meaning in our work, and in our personal relationships?
Our wants themselves express the desire for security, novelty, and meaning.
Go back to your list of wants and reclassify them into these three headings. For security, for example, you may want to attain a professional qualification, to learn to do something useful for which there is a lucrative market, or to have something such as a beautiful home which gives you a feeling of refuge and safety. For novelty, you may want a new experience or to acquire a new skill purely for self-expression and development. For meaning, you may want to be able to write a book that will give pleasure or instruction to thousands of people, or to find the love of your life, or to advance a glorious cause. For beautiful days are not made up only, or even mainly, of frivolous little indulgences, personal recreation, sexual pleasure, or selfish whims.
There is nothing wrong with any of these things. There is a lot right with them. They are the fuel for the body, the spirit, and the soul.
But at the heart of the most beautiful days are experiences, personal confidences, and shared exploration of the mysteries of life and relationships. The best beautiful days enhance security, novelty, and above all meaning. It is in the press of ordinary life, of ugly life, or simply non-beautiful life, the routine and trudge of getting and spending, of repeated fulfilment of tasks that are largely devoid of novelty or meaning, it is in the endless, boring and automatic transactions that wear out our bodies and spirits – it is in everything that is not a beautiful day, that our life, energy, and individuality run down, and we become less than we could be.
This can go on for years, until we die.
Unless, and until, we discover the secret of beautiful days.