Find the Miraculous in the Mundane

Treat Thompson



This is a republishing of the Shoulders of Giants newsletter.

What We'll Learn (in 3 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

When I was a kid, I couldn’t help but notice the amazing in everyday life. It would call out to me, flailing its arms around. 

Finding a penny on a sidewalk called for celebration, and an ant hill would throw me into a frenzy.

It takes a lot more than that today. 

Annie Dillard has a story that captures this well.

When she was six years old, she would hide pennies for strangers to find. She would put them in the holes of sidewalks and mark them with an arrow labelled “SURPRISE AHEAD.”

She would get excited thinking about the first lucky person to find her gift. But she’d never stick around to see it through. The point wasn’t to feel good from surprising people—the fun came from getting lost in it all.

We lose this with age. Finding the miraculous in the mundane gets harder and harder.

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

There used to be something to flood me with wonder around every corner: “How do birds know how to build nests?” “What did this place look like 100 years ago?” “How did famous sayings catch on?”

The smallest things filled me with joy: The first star at night was always beautiful, seeing how close I could call a squirrel over was thrilling and getting a truck driver to honk their horn was a huge win.

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

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

We become the Dad in the story Sidewalk Flowers.

It follows a little girl and her Dad walking home together.

He’s on his phone, rushing through pedestrians, meanwhile, she trails him, picking wildflowers and giving them to strangers—acknowledging everyone he’s neglected.

How’d We Get Like This

We get comfortable with spending life on the sidelines.

Henry Thoreau made this point by saying, 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.

Our discomfort with idleness is another problem. We bolt at the first sign of boredom, meanwhile, boredom helps 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

We also don’t care to be aware of our surroundings, and I don’t know why. Are we distracted? Is it unhappiness? Maybe we’re too self-centred?

Whatever it is, we consistently neglect the world around us.

“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

The truth is, everything is interesting. It just takes looking closer. Life’s unremarkable when you glance over everything.

It’s like saying your name over and over again and noticing how different it sounds each time. Everything has depth if you give it more attention.

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?