One of my favorite childhood memories involved sneaking cheap snacks into the dollar cinema with my older brother. We had a whole routine down: this included one oversized coat filled to the brim with candy and store-bought cheese popcorn.
As I've gotten older, I've learned that appreciating the little things, like this childhood memory, has become more difficult in a world fixated on achievement and meeting your next career milestone. You're often encouraged to celebrate your big successes and then curate them for social media. Which means that these smaller, simpler moments in your day tend to go unnoticed.
In her inspiring Netflix special, The Call to Courage, acclaimed author and University of Houston professor Brené Brown, makes the case for the following:
Learning to love the ordinary.
"Don't be so busy chasing extraordinary that you miss ordinary," Brown advises. "Taking a moment to commit to how we feel in ordinary moments can be very powerful."
When I first started out as a freelance journalist several years ago, I remember being told by colleagues to love the process over the outcome because there were so many "unknowables" that came with the job. For instance, there was no assurance whether I'd get something published or if anyone would even read what I had to say.
All I could do was focus on the page in front of me. And then the next.
By paying attention to these less "remarkable" moments, I had to let go of my self-imposed expectations and find meaning in the work itself.
Appreciation will build stronger relationships.
As Brown notes in her Netflix special, "we're neurologically hardwired for connection with other people." And this is easier to do when you're fully engaged.
One example that hits this concept home to me more than any other can be seen in the 2014 film, Chef, where Jon Favreau's character, Carl, reclaims his creative freedom after a major career setback and is able to reconnect with his estranged son.
The most moving scenes happen in the smaller, intimate moments where Carl teaches his son the right way to toast a Cubano or when they both try out new recipes together. By the end of the film, he comes to appreciate these ordinary yet incredibly meaningful minutes that make up a life.
Many of us don't realize when we're building memories.
In the highlight reel of your life, you'll remember your big career successes with pride, but you'll also cherish the uneventful days where you bonded with a coworker or learned something new. Or the moments where you tended to your creative vision and watched it unfurl before your eyes in the smaller details of a project.
Life happens in the in-between.
It's so much harder to focus on the ordinary when you're caught up in the bustle of trying to meet goals, but experts suggest you can significantly improve your overall mood by jotting down three good things that happen to you each day and your role in them.
By doing so, you can also stop focusing on external results and change the way you perceive happiness and success.
As a writer, I often have to step back from my constant urge to "achieve," and give myself permission to linger on the space between. The place where I'm growing. This means slowing down, for one. But it's also about appreciation: taking note of the little things throughout my day that I find fulfilling.
Because when you pay close attention to the things you care about, something magical happens. You stop resisting the present and consider what's truly valuable.