“One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased.” (Mark Nepo)
Jack Benny – a master of comedy … and being easily pleased
I came across this quote by Mark Nepo some months ago and it resonated with me. I’ve thought about it a lot, but hesitated to write about it or share it for fear that someone may interpret it as my advocating for accepting the unacceptable or for not resisting intolerance or injustice. I’m not, and I’m pretty sure the contemplative Mark Nepo isn’t either.
To me, being easily pleased doesn’t mean saying, “Oh, well, I wish more people cared about the environment, but I guess I won’t worry about it.” And it doesn’t mean saying, “Certain members of our society aren’t being treated equally, but I won’t fret about that.” And it certainly doesn’t mean accepting the fact that children are being killed and politicians are choosing to obey their gun lobby overlords rather than seek solutions that might save lives. No, being easily pleased doesn’t negate our need for activism.
Being easily pleased is delighting in the everyday wonders of being alive and choosing to appreciate what’s before us, rather than disparage it.
Be easily pleased seems like a wonderful way to approach life. Years ago, I read a biography of the late comedian Jack Benny. In addition to being one of the funniest people ever, and a master of comic timing, he was a very kind and generous man (despite his show business persona as a virtuoso cheapskate). He was also delighted by life. A friend of his told the story that every time Jack ate an apple he would exalt it as the very best apple he had ever tasted. That was his approach to life: constant delight. Each day was the best, each experience—however small—was the finest.
How would our minutes, hours, and days be different if we chose to savor each moment rather than look for what’s missing?
One element of being easily pleased is paying attention. You can’t notice the sweet crunch of an autumn apple if you’re engaged in three other things at the same time. You can’t feel the peace of a quiet morning if you don’t pause to listen to the birds and feel the faint rustle of the wind. You can’t appreciate the minor miracle of a good cup of coffee if you’re too busy doing other things to savor the taste and the way it seems to jump-start the blood in your veins.
Being easily pleased is also about being less rigid in our approach to life—expecting little and appreciating everything. Are you driven crazy by some habit or oversight of your spouse or child? Maybe they fail to turn the lights out when departing a room, or consistently leave cupboard doors open, or leave one measly square of toilet tissue rather than replace the empty roll. Being easily pleased means not letting things like this bother us. It means keeping them in perspective and recognizing how truly unimportant they are.
The “Toupée Fallacy”
It’s also helpful to be aware of a cognitive fallacy that may be at work. Sometimes called the “toupée fallacy,” it refers specifically to a claim someone may make that they “can always spot a man wearing a toupee,” when the truth is that they may be able to spot a bad toupee, but there could be countless times that a higher quality, better fitting toupee goes unnoticed. The analogy here is that you notice the times your spouse leaves the lights on or the cupboard open, but you don’t notice all the times that they don’t, the times when things are as they should be. We don’t notice what isn’t there.
I suppose there’s also a bit of “confirmation bias” transpiring here. We’ve decided that our spouse never turns out the lights so we’re alert for every instance that confirms our pre-existing viewpoint.
Being easily pleased also means recognizing there may be many right ways to reach a desired outcome. If you assign a task to your spouse, child, colleague, or employee, you’d be very wise not to become too invested in how they accomplish it—unless they ask for your guidance. While you may have a preferred way, it’s not likely to be the only way. If you like the lawn mowed in diagonal stripes, but your teenager wants to mow in circles, you’d be a fool to insist on your way. Think about it: your kid is mowing the lawn! Savor that. Relish it.
While there are, indeed, countless inequities and injustices against which we need to take a stand, there are also innumerable daily events and experiences that will bring us joy and satisfaction if only we can learn to be easily pleased.
Like nearly everything of value, it takes a little practice . . . but, oh, it’s worth it!
“Appreciate the little things, for one day you may look back and find they were the big things.” (Anonymous)