Find the Miraculous in the Mundane

Treat Thompson



This is a republishing of The Steady Fella Newsletter. Once a month I share ideas from great thinkers so we can stand on the shoulders of giants, instead of figuring life out alone.

What We'll Learn (in 4 minutes):

👨‍🏫 Topic: Our lost joy and wonder of the world

🔍 Quote: Socrates on satisfaction

📸 Visual: Goals and Stillness

📜 Passage: Mary Oliver on if you need a push to live your life

Find the Miraculous in the Mundane

What’s it take for you to be filled with joy? What about wonder?

As a kid, finding a penny on the sidewalk called for celebration.

An ant hill would throw my brain into a frenzy of curiosity.

It takes a lot more than that today.

We Lost Our Childlike Joy and Wonder

When I was younger, I had no choice but to notice all the amazing in everyday life. It would call out to me, flailing its arms around.

Boring, bland, and dry didn’t exist. Every day was an adventure, and everything had a personality.

I could see the miraculous in the mundane.

Now it’s easy to overlook it all.

I like to think about Annie Dillard’s story when it comes to this:

When she was six years old, she would hide pennies outside for strangers to find.

She would put them underneath trees and in the holes of sidewalks, then write down, “SURPRISE AHEAD” with a big arrow pointing to the treasure.

Thinking about the first lucky person to find her gift would fill her with excitement.

But she never stuck around to see it through. The point wasn’t to feel good from surprising people. The joy came from getting lost in the mundane activity.

She would go home, never thinking about it until she had the impulse to do it again.

This story captures the joy and wonder that we lose with age.

Hiding pennies sounds boring and pointless, but that’s the point. The joy is letting yourself get taken away and delighted by something as unremarkable as hiding pennies.

Being immersed in an activity is something we forget how to do with age. We stop practicing it, then the way we see the world changes.

We go from being WALL-E’s obsessed with the randomness around us to dull humans focused on cheap pleasure.

As a kid, there was something to flood my mind with wonder around every corner.

How do birds and spiders know how to make their nests and webs? What did this place look like 100 years ago? How do famous sayings and slang words start and catch on?

The most innocent occurrences would fill me with joy.

Seeing the first star appear at night put me in a daze. Seeing how close I could call a squirrel over was thrilling. Getting a truck driver to honk their horn was a huge win.

The sad part is that none of these wonders and joys ever went away.

It’s not like the world gets less interesting. We just get less interested.

We raise the bar of what it takes to move us.

Like the story Sidewalk Flowers:

It’s a story about a little girl and her father walking home together.

While he’s on his phone brushing through pedestrians in a busy city, she’s a modern-day Little Red Riding Hood strolling through an urban forest.

On her journey, she collects wildflowers and leaves them as gifts for others—the homeless man on a park bench, a bird whose time on Earth just ended, the neighbour's dog, and finally, her mom at home.

The essence of the story is that the child and the dad go through the same world, but their perceptions are entirely different. He’s distracted and rushed. Meanwhile, she’s paying attention to all of the beauty.

Looking deeper, the daughter gifting the wildflowers to those lives balances the neglect her absent-minded father showed all of them.

With each flower, she acknowledges the miraculous in the mundane—giving a piece of joy and attention to something that we would’ve skimmed over.

How’d We Get Like This

Part of what we fall victim to is how easy it is to get by in life just standing on the sidelines.

Like Henry Thoreau said: most people participate in life enough to work a job, less participate enough to exert themselves intellectually, and very few participate enough to live remarkable lives.

Another problem is our angst towards idleness. We can’t stand being still and unoccupied—it’s scary.

We bolt at the first sign of boredom. Never giving boredom the chance to show us the joys of the world.

All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.—Blaise Pascal

A third reason is that we don’t care to have awareness, and I don’t know why.

Are we distracted? Is it unhappiness? Maybe we’re too self-centred?

Whatever the reason, we consistently neglect the world around us. So we rob ourselves of its joy and wonder.

How awake are we, really, when we’ve stopped bowling over in awe at the everyday miracle of clouds? Or the unexpected glory of wildflowers on the city sidewalk?—Maria Popova

Everything is Interesting

The truth is, everything is interesting. We’re surrounded by the miraculous. Nothing is mundane.

You have to look closer. Life’s unremarkable when you glance over everything.

Alexandra Horowitz said it’s like saying your name over and over again and noticing how different it can sound each time. Everything has depth if you give it more attention.

Keri Smith tapped into her childlike joy and wonder of the world with her “How to be an Explorer of the World” list.

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.—Albert Einstein

Let the simple things blow your mind and crack a smile again.

Visual Value

Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

Featured Quote

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.—Socrates

If your bar for joy and wonder is low, you'll find it everywhere.

Featured Passage

I know you never intended to be in this world. But you’re in it all the same.

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.

There is so much to admire, to weep over.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.

Or not.

I am speaking from the fortunate platform of many years,

none of which, I think, I ever wasted.

Do you need a prod?

Do you need a little darkness to get you going?