Extraordinary Ordinary

After all the grey and cold and dreary weariness of this interminable winter, how about something to lift your spirits? Thanks to Susan Reimer, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, I found out about some new research that has identified just what it is that makes us happy. We’ve all known that experiences produce a more lasting happiness than possessions. But which experiences make us the happiest? Reimer reports on the research of two marketing professors, Amit Bhattacharjee of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Cassie Mogilner of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Their study titled, “Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences,” endeavored “to separate experiences into those two broad categories: extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent), such as the birth of a child or a trip to Hawaii; and ordinary (common and frequent), such as feeling the sun on your face on a summer morning [anybody remember what that was like?] or sharing pizza and a movie with the kids” (SBTribune 3-2-14). Can you guess what they discovered? I was surprised. “They found that younger people, who view the future as infinite and who are collecting experiences to help define who they are, gain more happiness from extraordinary experiences.” But as we age, these researchers discovered, we “begin to view [our] remaining time as limited” and thus we “get as much happiness from the ordinary experiences that are part of [our] daily lives.” Susan Reimer quotes them: “‘While younger people tend to define happiness in terms of excitement, enthusiasm and high stakes arousal, older people define happiness in terms of calm peacefulness and low states of arousal’” (ibid.). Reimer summarizes their findings: “We still love thrills as we age. . . . Extraordinary experiences give young and old almost the same amount of happiness. But happiness from ordinary experiences increased as people got older.” And then she quotes from an essay by 93-year-old Roger Angell in a recent New Yorker magazine. And I like the way he puts it: “We’ve outgrown our ambitions. If our wives and husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories and mossy opinions” (ibid.). Oh, I like that—and I’m not even 93! The aging Wiseman once put it: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). At every stage of the human journey, at every age of our lives, God offers to us an experience that is “beautiful in its time.” What makes you happy at your age may not be what makes me happy at mine. Nonetheless, whatever the age, there is happiness and beauty tucked away in our hearts by the God who turns even the ordinary into “beautiful in its time.” And the grayer we turn, the quieter we become, the more and still more of eternity God keeps pouring into our hearts. Until one day at 33 or 73 or 93, we walk off the stage of time, hand in hand with the Eternal, who through all the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life brought to us the very gift in that very moment we were needing most. What a Friend is this God who ages with us all the way into Eternity!

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