I was in school. It was a free period and a friend and I were sitting on a bench next to a tree chatting, when another friend approached us with some flowers she had picked up. The flowers had fallen in abundance under another tree nearby but I hadn’t picked up any on the way to the bench. The approaching friend handed us one flower each and I was very happy to receive mine. On seeing how happy I became, my first friend commented that I am ‘easy to please’.
It is a phrase implying a certain simplicity of mind, perhaps unrefined in taste and therefore too easily impressed. But this condescending connotation can easily be flipped. Being able to find happiness in the simpler things of every day life is, I have found, a rare quality. And those who have it, tend to be much happier people.
I stayed easy to please as I grew in school. There was natural beauty all around me and even in the dry season when the leaves were dusty waiting for the rain to wash them, the beauty of the blue sky would always amaze me. It became a running joke among my friends that I would look up sometimes and remark ‘Wow, it’s so blue!’. They called me ‘strange’, ‘funny’, and ‘crazy’ but I didn’t care. The sky was amazing to me. It still is. It is so infinite, so vast and deep. The blue of the sky is not like a blue wall. There are subtle changes to the hues in different parts at different times of the day. The depth of it is hard to capture or express, but it can be felt when you look at it. Were my friends not seeing the same sky as me? Or were they just not seeing the sky at all, though they looked at it with me?
Similar incidences littered my undergrad years. In my final year, we had set up some slides to see microorganisms under the microscope. In my enthusiasm, I got straight back to it after lunch. I focused the instrument to find them moving around. I called the others to come and see what I had found and one friend of mine took a look and said, “Yeah, Jan, we’ve seen them all through, it’s nothing new” and walked away. I was appalled at her reaction. Here are these tiny creatures that we now have the access to observe. We can see them so clearly. Under the microscope, a whole other world is revealed. Yes, we’ve done a full degree on microorganisms, but seeing them first hand, and while they are still alive and moving, never gets old. Does something have to be a totally novel experience to be worth enthusiasm? Why can’t every day, and every experience be fresh, new and different, without comparison?
These comments from my peers were meant to prompt me, as I ‘grew up’, to act unimpressed even when I felt a sense of wonder and joy. But why? Why experience less awe? And if you feel it, why hide it? ‘You should act less enthusiastically because everyone else does’ is not a good enough argument for me.
During my PhD there was a farewell dinner for a friend who was finishing hers. (I remember the incident more because a good friend used it as proof in a later conversation that ‘I had teeth’ and could fend for myself.) So there we were at dinner, having a normal conversation and I expressed wonder at something. The girl sitting opposite to me laughed openly at me. Catching my expression, she said “Sorry” as she continued to snigger. I understood clearly what she found funny so I replied with some pity, ‘No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you can’t feel wonder any more. I don’t know what that leaves you with.’ In retrospect, maybe it was an acidic thing to say. But it was honest.
As a twenty four year old I have stood outside my office in the university enjoying the summer rain, leaving my mouth open for the drops to fall into, feeling the grass wet beneath my bare feet. (I did this quite often in India during summer storms, accompanied by some singing, shouting and jumping around.) Some colleagues watched, either perplexed or embarrassed for me, from the windows. I knew they watched me. I knew what they must have thought. But here was this joy, and if I didn’t go out and feel it to the full, I would’ve been missing out. And what does that kind of restraint achieve?
My mum always calls us kids out to see the moon or watch the dance of a wild storm and sometimes get wet in it. She gets excited about dipping her feet in any sizable water body we pass. It would disappoint her if she couldn’t go for a full dip in the river. And she won’t just go in, she would have fun there, encouraging us to follow, splashing, playing, and squealing with joy at being splashed back. I grew up seeing the look of sheer joy radiate from her beautiful eyes every time she was surprised with a flower. Her expressive and vocal appreciation for natural beauty and simple pleasures has always been, and continues to be, unfiltered. She has a great capacity for joy and I’m very happy to find that quality in myself.
Allowing oneself to find pleasure in simple, freely available things like the rain, flowers, or the colour of the sky isn’t ‘crazy’ or ‘strange’. Actually I think it’s crazy not to allow it. Happiness is easy and free. It is there, all around and within our own hearts, to feel, in every moment. Happiness is here and now, in so many forms, external and internal. It is in the noises of a baby, the sway of the leaves in the light breeze, and in the soft, quiet moonlight. It is in the love of family, in music, the simple silences between people who understand each other, it is in friendly smiles, and within oneself. It’s not so abstract; something out there, unattainable, in the future somewhere, to be earned, to be worked towards through achievements marked by praise, fame, power, or the ability to buy fancy things.
People may keep saying unkind things about how easily pleased I am. They may keep telling me I need to do this or get that to be happy. Does it always fall on deaf ears when there are so many voices? As an adult I find that sometimes I’m too engrossed in my thoughts to find the joys in the moment. So I like to keep track. I like to verify once in a while that I still carry a spirit of wonder and joy with me.
I was out with my husband recently and after a tasty pizza, he suggested stopping by a gelato place on the walk back. I hesitated, then agreed beaming a big smile in anticipation. I realised then, as I skipped happily beside him, I am still ‘easy to please’.
As always, comments are most welcome. As you leave them, I leave you with these two related videos.
Simple Pleasures by Bobby McFerrin:
and a TED talk on the beauty of every day: