Be Easily Pleased

“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)

29 thoughts on “Be Easily Pleased

  1. Your lovely post brings to mind a couple of things. It reminds me of a quote from Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner Mind. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” I like the idea of everything, even the small things, being seen with new eyes, in order to revel in them a bit.
    I also think about how in parenting education classes we were encouraged to catch our children “doing something right”. I try to apply that to other people as well.

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    • I like the correlation between being easily pleased and having a beginner’s mind. Somewhere I heard that early man was wired to seek negativity because it represented danger that he must be alert to. Our distant ancestors survived by listening for the sabre-toothed tiger’s footsteps. That negative focus doesn’t serve us so much anymore, but it’s hard to overcome. Catching people doing something right is another wonderful way to approach life! Thanks, Michelle.

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  2. Love this post. It reminds me of the gratitude journal. And of course you are right. No matter how challenging life gets, there is always something to love, to appreciate, to get pleasure from, to be grateful for. And it’s amazing what a difference that can make in your day, in your life and in the lives of others. Thanks for this.

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  3. Thank you, Donna! Life IS so much better when we delight in everyday beauty, everyday joy, and everyday connection that we do easily take for granted. I’m relearning to monitor the lenses I look at people through, particularly those whom I have struggled to connect with in the past. Another mantra that really helps is, “We are all doing the best we can.” I think it’s true, mostly. And even if it’s not, making this simple assumption helps me be more open and compassionate—it help me do *my* best. And I suffer less and inevitably learn more when I take this approach.
    So thank you again, my wise friend, for the reminder and reinforcement! Best wishes to you!! 🙏🏼😁
    Oh and also, I think the Dalai lama would agree wholeheartedly with this post. 😊

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    • I think “We are all doing the best we can” should be posted prominently in all public places–a great reminder to all of us. Thanks for your kind words, Cathy, and for saying the Dalai Lama might like these sentiments. How cool would it be if he posted a comment on a blog post!

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    • Thanks, Janis! Speaking of big, joyful ideas, I loved your post today about spring, with that gorgeous photo. We’ve got temps in the low 20’s and intermittent snow so it was a most welcome sight.

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  4. Lovely Nepo quote and thanks, Donna, for reminding me of the dangers of multitasking and speeding through life. Yes, I agree comedians have the best attitude, and a sense of humour helps us see life in perspective. We watch English comedian Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow – he is a lovely man who literally bounces on to the stage and zings with joy – quite a tonic!

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    • I’m going to have to look for Michael McIntyre, Carol. We need to get our laughs wherever we can these days. The daily news is all too grim. Thanks for telling me about him, and for your great comment!


  5. Beautiful post, Donna. I agree wholeheartedly with you, and with Borges, who wrote, “There is no day without its moments of paradise.” This morning it was my breakfast tangerine: heavenly!

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  6. Great read Donna. I am trying to be more mindful and to pay attention to the little things. Last year I started to “savour” little moments and it does add to my happiness and appreciation for life.I find that a little meditation helps a lot with that as well.

    The Toupée Fallacy–I’m hearing this term for the first time here and it reminds me of my former boss. I use to say, if I take a white blank sheet of paper and make a black dot at the centre, he will point out the black dot and ignore the huge part of paper that is white. Glass half empty much?

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    • Hi, Candace, yes, all of those little moments strung together do add up to a full life if we stay aware. Meditation is a good way of doing that. Sounds like your former boss needed an attitude adjustment. Thanks for your comment and kind words!

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  7. This is why I live the Taoist philosophy. The only real moment that exists is now. No tomorrow or yesterday. The quote from ACIM which states, “Nothing real can be threatened, nothing unreal exists.” Has also gratly impacted my quality of living. The only real thing is love, all else falls away when our perception of importance shifts. Even when I have teying moments, my awareness of truth still exists and I can find my eay back. That is my comfort, my safe haven. I hope you are having a very peaceful week.

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