How To Appreciate The Simple Pleasures

image of a sunrise

Oftentimes when I’m not feeling my best, the problem is that I lack an appreciation for the “simple pleasures” in life.

I will go through my day only half awake, unaware of the beauty all around me. Everyone experiences times like these, but it is critical for our happiness that we minimize the amount of time spent in this state.

Before going into some exercises, I want to go into more detail on the problem itself.

Let’s take two people, Adam and Bret.

Both of them have a very similar Saturday from an objective standpoint. Both are college seniors, and therefore wake up around noon, slightly hung over.

They go get breakfast (eggs, a great hangover remedy by the way) and then go back to their house, lay in bed, and watch TV all day until going out again at night.

At the end of the day, Adam interprets his Saturday as a success, whereas Bret believes it has been a total failure. What happened?

When Adam ate his breakfast, he was tasting how delicious it was and observing how it made him feel good to eat. Bret, on the other hand, viewed eating as an obligation, and spent his time eating because he thought he needed to.

While Adam watched TV, he laughed along with his favorite show (The Simpsons, of course), and enjoyed relaxing on his bed until he no longer had a headache. Not only that, he thoroughly enjoyed drinking his daily cup of tea.

Bret simply felt incapable of doing anything else, and watched TV because there was nothing else to do. He also had a cup of tea, but barely even tasted it.

Notice how the character of their day was not particularly stimulating.

It’s not as though they went to some awesome rave or did anything the least bit exciting. There is nothing overtly awesome about this day, and yet Adam considers it a really good time.

The difference between Adam and Bret, of course, is that Adam derives pleasure from the simple things. He doesn’t need to compare the joy of going to a wild party to the joy of a cup of tea; he can simply enjoy it as it happens.

This difference is a matter of your mindset rather than any sort of “trick” or “hack”.

It’s not possible to go from not appreciating the simple pleasures to fully enjoying them at all times overnight.

Naturally, there is a spectrum that ranges from anhedonia, where you cannot appreciate anything, to euphoria, where everything is friggin amazing. Without the use of chemicals, we usually operate somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, and everyone is at a different point.


Techniques For Appreciating The Simple Pleasures

Our aim is to move from wherever we are on the spectrum towards the “euphoria” side. Here are some exercises which should help.

Exercise #1: Check Yourself

Periodically throughout the day, ask yourself, “Am I enjoying to the best of my ability the activity that I am currently engaged in?”

Be honest with yourself.

If the answer is yes, then great. If the answer is no, then you have a number of options.

  • See if the activity is necessary. If it’s something that you know you don’t like to do, and you don’t have to do it, then stop.
  •  Isolate the positives in your situation.
  • Change or add to the activity to make it more enjoyable.

Let’s say you are drinking a cup of tea while working on an assignment for class.

You remember to ask yourself if you are enjoying the moment, and you realize you are not.

You know that the assignment is due tomorrow and is very important, so you can’t simply ignore it. Instead, consider that you are in fact doing something important, and accomplishing the task brings you closer to other goals in your life.

If you want, you take a break, relax, have a sip of the delicious tea you are drinking, and notice the situation isn’t nearly as bad as you thought it was. Hell, if the tea isn’t enough, you can go take a few minute break to meditate, take a walk, or do something else you enjoy.

Exercise #2: Go On A Simple Pleasure Binge

Write a list of at least 42 (preferably more like 50-60) things that are simple pleasures to you.

Every day for the next two weeks, pick three new items on the list and do them that day.

Feel free to take advantage of a simple pleasure more than once during those two weeks, but make sure you do three different ones each day. Fourteen days times three equals 42 simple pleasures, get it?

It’s not enough to simply do something on your list so you can cross it off.

You must do it and be immersed enough in the activity to enjoy it thoroughly. If you didn’t enjoy doing it, then it doesn’t count.

I’ve included a list of some of my simple pleasures for you to get ideas from, but please come up with your own.

Be honest with yourself. Don’t put something on there because you want to enjoy doing it. Only put something on your list if you know that you actually find that activity pleasurable.

Take your time here, because this exercise will only be effective if your list truly reflects your own desires. You should regularly update it with new items as you think of them.

Here is my list:

1. Having a cup of tea

2. A cold beer

3. A leisurely walk in a park or through a nice area

4. Listening to good music with my headphones on

5. Dancing by myself in my room

6. Getting lunch/dinner with a friend I haven’t seen in a while

7. Watching the Simpsons

8. Eating a square of dark chocolate

9. Spending a half hour doing yoga

10. Making eye contact and smiling at a stranger

11. Sitting on the porch and people watching

12. Putting on clothes straight from the dryer

13. Dressing nice to feel like a boss

14. Dressing comfortably in pajamas/sweats to feel at home

15. Going to bed in newly cleaned bedsheets

16. Reminiscing about old times with close friends

17. Complimenting a stranger

18. Complimenting a friend

19. A very challenging workout

20. Physical contact with women (holding hands, putting my arm around them, etc.)

21. Playing racquetball

22. Playing volleyball

23. Taking a long and relaxing shower

24. Watching the sunrise

25. Getting a massage

26. Meditating for twenty minutes

27. Practicing my Hebrew

28. Trying to learn to write music

29. Writing something that I expect will help others

30. Showing gratitude for something I truly do appreciate

31. Doing a favor for a friend

32. Accomplishing the various small tasks that must be done

33. Eating food and savoring every bite

34. Doing something spontaneous

35. Having a banana/peanut butter smoothie (banana flips from Hansel n’Griddle are amazing)

36. Blast music loudly

37. Play spades

38. Read for an hour

39. Play Super Smash Bros. with friends

40. Practicing liquid dancing, poi, or glowsticking for an hour

41. Try a new restaurant or food I have never had before

42. Drink a glass of top shelf whiskey on the rocks

43. Shadow box or hit a punching bag for a half hour

44. Smoke hookah

45. Go on a date

46. Have a glass of wine that is matched well to my meal

47. Have long conversations with my siblings

48. Plan a vacation or trip, even if I’m not going to go on it

49. Watch hilarious videos on youtube, or look at memes

50. Learn about a totally new topic, issue, or philosophy.

51. Watch a DVD that I haven’t seen in a while

Let me know about your experience doing these exercises!

photo by: Kıvanç Niş

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  1. Amending #7 – watching Simpsons with my brother!

  2. Reading this post on the students A & B who both did the same thing and one enjoyed the day while the other saw it as a failure helped me better appreciate the post below.

    There are so many things to learn and do that it can be upsetting that there’s no way to do everything. The excerpt below tries to turn that into a blessing — it means you can fill your life with things you want to do and pick from those you feel like doing at any given time.

    …my list of things I want to do for personal enrichment is much longer than I have time to do.

    There are many days when I look at that list and find that I have little interest in doing many of the things on it right at that moment, but eventually I do find something that excites me. If it does not make me feel excited in that moment, I skip it.

    I also relish in trying something new, which is particularly useful considering there is an infinite variety of things to try. Even if you apply a filter to that list – for example, sticking with things that are free or very low cost as well as things that in some way teach you a skill – there’s often an incredibly long list of things to do. Just go through that list and spend your free time tackling some of them.

  3. Great post. We have the choice in each moment to savor it, regret it, or ignore it. Regardless of the moment, each one offers a lesson if we can be conscious to observe and learn from it. It is not natural to truly “be in the moment” all the time, but if we intentionally focus we can find pleasure or at least meaning in any moment we choose. Intentionally choosing to engage in simple pleasures we already know we love is a great way to start this practice!
    All the best,

    • Mike, that’s a valid point that it is difficult and unnatural to be in the moment all the time. Just about any moment in time can be pleasurable, but especially, as you said, the ones we already know we love. So often these simple pleasures pass us by and yet it’s so easy to just enjoy them.

  4. Heya superb blog! Does running a blog such as this take a massive amount work?
    I have no understanding of computer programming
    however I was hoping to start my own blog inn the nesr future.
    Anyway, if you hage any ideas orr techniques for new blog owners please share.
    I understand this is off subject but I just wanted to ask.
    Many thanks!

    • It takes very little in the way of computer skills – just look into wordpress and you can be up and running really quickly. Thanks for the compliment and the comment!


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