If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?
6 Genius quotes about finding joy in the simplest things
“He said that when things are going really well, we should be sure to notice it. He was talking about very simple occasions, not great victories. Maybe drinking lemonade under a shade tree, or smelling the aroma of a bakery, or fishing, or listening to music coming from a concert hall while standing in the dark outside, or, dare I say, after a kiss. He told me that it was important at such times to say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?”
― Kurt Vonnegut, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young
Kurt Vonnegut was an American writer, famous for his peculiar, satirical style. He’s the author of the bestselling novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). You might want to listen to a talk Vonnegut gave in which he encourages his audience to notice and praise the small things — “Shape Of Stories”, Kurt Vonnegut.
If you’ve watched the video, you probably had a good laugh. But also a revealing epiphany.
Personally, the technique Vonnegut suggests in the above quote helped me appreciate, or should I say, notice my appreciation of any given moment.
I know. I know. You would be judging the occasion. But we’re human. There are times for silent contemplation, and there are times for acknowledging the beauty surrounding us.
We have completely lost our ability to walk through life like we did when we were kids. Remember? The times each instant captured your attention and sparked your enthusiastic curiosity. Maybe then you didn’t need to remind yourself of the magic of the moment. You just knew it, you could sense it.
Vonnegut’s reminder is a way too devoid our minds of all the chit-chat and stops for a minute just to honor the occasion. Since we’re no longer kids, we might need this aid today to anchor ourselves to the magical instant right in front of us, to prevent it from slipping away. It would do experience some justice. And it’s the least we can do for ourselves. It’s a way of feeling grateful. To take the time to fully immerse ourselves in the experience as we gently invite all our senses to take part.
If this isn’t nice, what is?
Smiling when you hear your favorite song coming from a window.
Pausing time to marvel at an Autumn Blaze Maple tree.
Letting the smell of a Caramel Macchiato make your mouth water.
But what holds us back is that we often take things for granted. We take our favorite song for granted. We take the Autumn Blaze Maple tree for granted. We take the smell of a Caramel Macchiato for granted. We can’t notice them anymore. If we stopped to think for a moment about all the things we’re missing, we would feel enraged, then sad to acknowledge we can’t get all that back. But we can have this moment. And the next one. And why not? Maybe the next one, too.
It’s nice to remember our childhood endeavors more often, so as not to forget we were once kids too. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry perfectly depicted it:
“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
He also tried to remind us of the beauty that underlies simplicity. “The Little Prince” is an utter tribute to simplicity, a chant to all the small things.
But here’s my favorite quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman’s Odyssey
Sublime. I love this quote. There’s nothing you could add to it, nor take away from it. “Airman’s Odyssey” is a splendid book too.
The meaning of this idea is pretty straightforward.
You might have contemplated a work of art you enjoyed, but you felt you would remove a brushstroke that broke the harmony. “Without it, it would be just perfect”, you think.
But it’s much easier for us to spot the surplus in the external objects, or in other people. It’s an interesting exercise to look around and find something in our lives we don’t need, something we can do away with.
We’ll eventually reach a point where we believe we can’t further remove elements from our life. That’s perfect. And that stage is different for each one of us. It’s the best we can do with the tools we currently possess. In time, we learn to identify other luxuries. But the curious thing is that each time you play this game, you’ll identify a new item you can wipe out.
It really pays to be honest with ourselves, and to ask ourselves that question we hardly ever ask: “Do I really need this?” Should the answer be “Yes”, then I usually ask myself, “What do I need it for?”. This is a great way to avoid self-indulgence.
Simple is better. Simple living, simple talking, simple writing, simple loving. Well, I don’t really see how love could be complex. We make it complex. But then it does not love at all. Love is simple in nature.
Yet, no one ever said simple was easy. If it was, we would all be done with drama, unnecessary complexity, redundancy, manipulation, anxiety, stress. But we’re not done. Not yet.
The small things are our anchor. Opulence distracts us. It draws our attention away from a graceful, elementary essence.
Ludwig Boltzmann couldn’t have said it better.
“If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.”
― Ludwig Boltzmann
Ludwig Boltzmann was an Austrian physicist and philosopher. He developed extensive work in statistical mechanics. Like most geniuses, he was very fond of simplicity. They often experience an intuitive insight into new concepts that make sudden sense to them and seem very straightforward.
It takes a special sensitivity to develop this depth of intuition. To speak the language of The Universe. The same sensitivity that makes life so intense for many of these geniuses. Boltzmann was no exception. He died by hanging himself. Life can be painful for these permeable minds.
His quote states that truth is simple, so you can describe it without too much hassle. Exotic details are better left out.
Ornaments are trivial. And Confucius knew it.
“A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace.”
Yes! If you can marvel at ordinary things, you have an entire life of adventure ahead. And I’m (very) far from wise. I’m just willing to open my eyes to the wonders of life, which are abundant. I marvel at common things because that’s what keeps me alive. It’s my fuel. If I waited for something outstanding to happen, then what purpose would the rest of the days serve?
But sometimes I also wonder, “What’s next?”.
Our days shouldn’t be just a bridge to the next big thing. Let’s make a big thing out of our days. The simplest, the better.
Appreciating a moment begets pleasant contentment. I’m a moment lover. I soak up every second of them because I remind myself that they will never come back. So I’m not willing to miss them. But I must confess I tend to cling to them a bit, I never want them to end.
When I sense a joyful instant is about to wrap up, I think to myself, “No, no, please, just 5 more minutes.” I need to work on that.
But as absent as I usually am, as chatty as my mind is, as numb as I might appear when I don’t remind myself to be in the moment, I’ve been alive too, albeit occasionally. And when it happens, time goes by in slow motion. You “feel” life with all your senses.
And you’re left with strikingly vivid memories. I have some of those. A kid pushing a raft into the water on Brazilian coasts. An intense golden sunset tinging my place with gold through my window. A dog taking a refreshing bath in a fountain, in downtown, on a sultry day.
This dog made my day. He put on an entire show for passersby. He tried to pull the coins from the bottom of the fountain. How bold!
If you’re too busy to appreciate captivating moments like those, you’re too busy to live.
Those are not moments to rush through. Those are moments to take with you forever. I have a logbook of these. They’re “My Precious”, Gollum would say. Without them, I feel life would be one enormous void, much like Click, the movie, illustrates. You fast-forward your life to the next glorious event. And then to the next one. By the time you notice it, the is over. Time to insert another coin for the next game to begin.
It’s no use waiting for extraordinary events. They’re right here. Many of these moments are outstanding by themselves, and when they add up, they become the difference between living and barely surviving. When we appreciate them, we’re no longer dependent on the over-stimulation that big events provide. An over-stimulation that quickly turns into depletion, by the way. And then that void again. You need the next great dose of enthusiasm. It’s never enough.
Marveling at simplicity will keep you stimulated and pleasantly surprised 24/7. Guaranteed.
Rainer Maria Rilke (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge’s author) put it this way:
“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Imagine life surprising you just around each corner. If this isn’t nice, then what is?