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Knowing Your Simple Pleasures: An Exercise in Knowing Yourself

Simple pleasures are neither simple nor are they universal. Our simple pleasures are a reflection of who we are. They are those unique activities that give each of us joy. Certainly there are some common themes.
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Woman relaxing on sofa reading a book in her cozy loft apartment
Woman relaxing on sofa reading a book in her cozy loft apartment

Everyone talks about the benefits of taking time out for the "simple pleasures." The idea is that we will be happier if we regularly do those inexpensive, easy-to-do activities that give us joy. That sounds, well, simple -- right?

But it isn't. The problem for many of us is that we don't know what our simple pleasures are. We don't know what makes us happy. Let me explain. We spend our childhood and adolescence doing whatever the grownups want us to do. So we end up going camping because our parents want to. And we see the movies that our families want to watch. Then we grow up, leave home, and in an effort to make friends, we do all kinds of things we may not necessarily enjoy, but that give us a social life, e.g., going to bars and having mind-numbing conversations with drunk people.

There is nothing inherently wrong with doing activities that either our families or friends enjoy. That is the way that we deepen those relationships. The problem is that we also need to figure out what we really enjoy.

When I was in college, my mother gave me some wise advice. She said, "Before you get married and live with another person, you need to spend some time living by yourself. You need to get to know yourself." And she was right. So I did exactly that. For almost two years, I lived by myself in Philadelphia. And you know what I found out? I love to read and poke around in bookstores. I also love to spend an afternoon just walking around the city. And I love listening to jazz and classical music. And every so often, I need moments of pure silence.

When you are trying to determine what your simple pleasures are, ask yourself this: Do I really know myself? Do I know what makes me happy, or do I only know what makes the other people in my life happy? For instance, do you really enjoy watching football all Sunday afternoon, or is that just what your family used to do, and you haven't considered doing anything else? Do you really like pop or rap music, or is that just what your friends listen to?

We all don't enjoy the same things. That is why I find lists of simple pleasures on the Internet to be amusing. For instance, recently I read a list which included walking barefoot in the grass as a simple pleasure. I can't think of anything I would less like to do. There are bugs, sticks, stones and all kinds of other grossness in the grass. I can assure you that walking barefoot in the grass would give me zero pleasure. My simple pleasure would be to spend an hour reading a book in my backyard. However, that same activity would give my husband no pleasure. He loves to putter. He could probably sit in the backyard for about two minutes before he would get up and start fixing something or gardening. We are all so, so different.

Sometimes we already know what makes us happy. However, as life gets busy and we get older, we forget about or put aside our simple pleasures. For example, I studied the flute for years. However, I gave it up when I started working and had family responsibilities. Playing my flute seemed selfish and indulgent when no one else in my family could participate. Three years ago I got my sense back and returned to playing the flute. I love it. I regret having ever stopped.

Simple pleasures are neither simple nor are they universal. Our simple pleasures are a reflection of who we are. They are those unique activities that give each of us joy. Certainly there are some common themes. Very often simple pleasures involve being out in nature, doing something creative, or appreciating music and literature. But beyond that, each of us has to determine what it is that feeds our souls. That is not always easy in a world in which we are bombarded by other people's needs and opinions. But enjoying the simple pleasures is something that each of us deserves to have in life. Think of it as your "inalienable right." So today, give some time to discovering what your simple pleasures are.

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