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Living an Ordinary Life

The New York Times had a fascinating essay last week about living an ordinary life.  That we’re pushed to want to be extraordinary, but the most satisfied life customers are ones who don’t aim for fame or huge accomplishments.  They’re just trucking along, living in the moment, being happy with what is in front of them rather than always focusing on trying to achieve something enormous.  They’re like pre-Gandalf Bilbo Baggins, happy to stay in his cozy hobbit nook in the Shire, vs. post-dragon Bilbo Baggins, who craves adventure and itches to do something really big again.

(The essay used the characters in Middlemarch, but I’m more of a Tolkien girl.)

The author points to a passage in the book and states,

It encapsulates what a meaningful life is about: connecting and contributing to something beyond the self, in whatever humble form that may take.

Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.

I was thinking about this essay this week because my happiest moment was picking apples for the week with the kids on Saturday morning.  Not really remarkable to anyone else, but it made me smile as we made our way back to the car with 12 pounds of apple in tow.

The essay ends with words for students heading back to school:

You don’t have to change the world or find your one true purpose to lead a meaningful life. A good life is a life of goodness — and that’s something anyone can aspire to, no matter their dreams or circumstances.

It is a good life.  Sometimes a Bilbo-y Baggins sort of life (pre-Gandalf) because I prefer being at home.  But a good, ordinary life.


1 Charlotte { 09.14.17 at 10:28 am }

Yes to this. Sometimes I feel like maybe I *should* be doing all the things and striving to have my kids be and do all the things, because sometimes I get the perception that that is what everyone else is doing. But I don’t sit around wishing to do all those other things, I am mostly quite content. A good, ordinary life, indeed.

2 loribeth { 09.14.17 at 10:30 am }

I also saw & loved this piece. It reminded me that I have a draft post that I started a year or two ago when a friend flagged a similar piece on Facebook. I know that many of us who are childless-not-by-choice struggle with the perception that we need to do more, be more, lead a spectacular kind of life (become the female Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, travel to exotic places, volunteer to feed orphans in Africa, climb Mount Everest — you get the picture)… because (not having children) we can!! (or so everyone else seems to think…). When really, many of us are perfectly happy leading a quiet, ordinary, domestic kind of life.

Time to dust off that draft, I think… 😉

3 Cristy { 09.14.17 at 11:06 am }

I completely agree. There’s this assumption that the only way to live a meaningful life is by having gone out and changed the world in some way. We promote only that and drive people to reach for this. What we don’t allow people to see is that the vast majority of the time there is going to be a lot of failure with this path. And this failure is very hard (especially when it piled up).

But the other part is that there is so much meaning to be had in seemingly unimportant acts and moments. Like the Apple picking you did (huh, wonder if we were both in orchards at the same time this weekend). Or simply interacting with neighbors. Or having a simple weekly routine. There’s a lot of joy there. And it’s honestly a very good thing as I believe it is the foundation of community building.

4 nicoleandmaggie { 09.14.17 at 1:49 pm }

Correlation is not causation. There’s selection bias.


5 Jess { 09.14.17 at 9:30 pm }

I love this, so much. I have to go back and read the original piece, but it sounds like something I could use in my classroom. I think that there’s such a disservice done when it seems the only valuable life is the big life, the bombastic life (ha, I mistyped that as “mombastic,” which may have been a little Freudian, ha), the famous and the achievements racked up on a shelf. It’s so much more worthy (and realistic) to aim to have a good life, a life where you don’t focus on being famous but on being a GOOD HUMAN. It’s what I want for my students — cool if they actually become NFL players or Oscar-winning actors, but better if they are a wonderful, decent, truly good human being. This is beautiful.

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.15.17 at 10:20 am }

Love this. I remember having to learn that in a marriage/partnership, you sometimes have to decide whether you’d rather be right or be happy. Maybe in life, you must likewise choose if it’s more important for you to be big or to be happy.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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