Have an Average Day

Enjoying the ordinary is extraordinary

  • Have An Average Day

    Illustration by Thom Glick

  • Have An Average Day

I once was talking to my friend and mentor Steve Chandler when he said to me, “Have an average day!” Taken aback, I asked him what he meant. Isn’t the idea to have great days, even exceptional ones?

He told me a story about one of his mentors, Lyndon Duke, who studied the linguistics of suicide. After receiving doctorates from two universities, Duke began analyzing suicide notes for linguistic clues that could be used to predict and prevent suicidal behavior in teenagers.

Duke came to believe that the enemy of happiness is “the curse of exceptionality.” When everyone is trying to be exceptional, nearly everyone fails because the exceptional becomes commonplace, and those few who do succeed feel isolated and estranged from their peers. We’re left with a world in which a few people feel envied, misunderstood, and alone, while thousands of others feel like failures for not being good, special, rich, or happy enough.

When I was in the thickest cloud of my own suicidal thoughts, I was at university and I remember wishing that I could run away from my scholarship, change my name to Bob, and take a job pumping gas at a full-service station somewhere in the Midwest. Only in my fantasy, people would start to notice something special about me. They would begin driving miles out of their way to have “Bob the service guy” fill up their cars and to exchange a few words with him, leaving the station oddly uplifted and with a renewed sense of optimism and purpose.

I was, to my way of thinking, doomed to succeed.

Delusions of grandeur? Quite possibly. Depressed and miserable? Absolutely.

1/5/2008 12:00:00 AM

As someone who has suffered from mental illness, this idea has been quite "normal" for me for some time. During the depths of my depressed despair, I went to a bank. The teller had on "average" clothes, an "average" hairstyle, and had pictures of her "average" children at her booth. In a flash of an instant, I could see her "normal" day, married or not, getting up to help her kids get to school, coming to work, cleaning house when she got home, putting the kids to bed. And I thought about how frustrated she might think she was with this arrangement. But for me it was miraculous! Did she know how lucky she was to have an "average," "normal" life? It was an insight which changed my experience of living. And if that's not enlightenment, what is?

M. Laurel
1/4/2008 12:00:00 AM

The concept of "average" being "enough" has profound potential, certainly for the original audience of suicidal teens who feel they don' measure up. Why then the summary sentences: "Be an average, happy person making a small positive difference (and having a happy, average day). In doing this, you create a kind of exceptionality that everyone can share."? Then the purpose for allowing oneself to be avergage mutates into a desire to achieve "exceptionality." Argh! Must we aim to find that everything is in some way rich and fulfilling? Do people feel guilty because they were unable to effect significant change in the lives of others today . . . or because we heap accolades on those who do Big things and ignore those who don't? As long as we define who we are by what others perceive us to accomplish, we are all doomed to feel that our own small lives are less than significant, even a drain on society. This is the kind of thinking that engenders thoughts of suicide, and not just among teenagers. Where is the satisfaction that could come from being able to say at the end of the day that, "I hurt no one. I cheated no one. I belittled no one. I judged no one. I brought no heartache into the world today."?

Dr. Paul O. Radde
1/3/2008 12:00:00 AM

As the author of Thrival! How to Have an Above Average Day Every Day, I take your assertion as one of "realizing" one's self and experience on a daily basis. This is not just mindfulness but also looking for the richness within and in one's experiences and circumstances. Most in this culture are looking to "improve" -- the implication of my title as well. However, improvement leads to a kind of self-comparison with which one is never "enough". In Thrival one seeks to have the "richest experience of one's live" -- which is not alway happiness. However, this richness can come from realizing oneself in various contexts, insperiences, and experiences.

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