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I take the train to work. It takes about 90 minutes each way, so it’s a long commute. I remember one day as I got off the train, I passed by a mother and her young daughter getting on the train.

The mother smiled at me and asked, “Was it fun?”

She must have noticed the blank look on my face, because she quickly added, “It’s our first time to ride the train.”

We passed each other by and went on about our day, but there was something about the 10-second exchange that stayed with me. It seemed like a small thing, but for some reason I kept thinking about it.

I had another experience with trains a few years ago over the holidays. I have a little cousin who was very into trains. His parents got him a train set for Christmas, and my dad and I helped set it up. Once we got the train set running, it entertained my little cousin for hours. He liked to watch it go around in a circle. He lined up toy cars on either side of the track to create a crossing. He cut out a cardboard box to create a mountain.

I did feel a sense of satisfaction that we were able to get the train running. (It’s not as easy as it looks!) But if I wasn’t focused on connecting with my little cousin, I would have gotten bored with the train pretty quickly. All the train did was go around in a circle. I was ready to go on to the next thing.

On To The Next Thing

I feel like that a lot in my life. I enjoy something for a while, but then I’m ready to go on to the next thing. I need my life to keep progressing and getting more exciting. I’m more focused on the next thing than I am on the current thing.

Happy With the Normal

I think this is a problem that makes me less happy. The lesson here, from the lady on the train and my cousin, is to be happy with the normal. They both engaged their everyday lives with a sense of wonder and curiosity.

I think being happy with the normal is easy and natural for kids, but difficult for adults. Think about it: When did the train stop being fun? When did you grow up and lose your sense of wonder? How can we get back on the “Polar Express” of life? Here are 5 ways to reclaim your sense of happiness with the normal:

  1. Don’t Rush. We tend to be in a hurry. We don’t have time to wait for someone to cook our food, so we get fast food. We don’t want to spend the time to go to the store, so we do our shopping online. We don’t want to waste time watching commercials, so we record TV shows to watch later. We have the potential in our society to be more efficient than ever before. But there is a downside to this efficiency. We are constantly in a rush. And when we are in a rush to get to the next thing, it is difficult to enjoy the current thing. So try not to rush. Make a deliberate effort to walk more slowly than usual. Eat slowly. Drive the speed limit. Wake up 15 minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush through your shower and breakfast. See what happens when you have more time to enjoy your normal routine.
  2. Be Mindful. Most of us go through our day on autopilot. Have you ever been driving in your car, and all of a sudden you realize you have been driving for 15 minutes but can’t remember anything that happened? Or have you ever eaten your meal so fast that you finish and then realize you were full half a hamburger ago? This is the essence of mindlessness, which is the opposite of mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being tuned in to the present moment. Mindfulness involves being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When you are mindful, you notice your emotions and accept them as they are. You are able to thoughtfully respond rather than react. The cool thing about mindfulness is you can train yourself to do it. The most common practice for improving mindfulness is meditation. Meditation doesn’t have to be a religious thing. It’s like an exercise for your brain.
  3. Be Curious. Curiosity tends to decline with age. I’m not sure why. Maybe at a certain age our pride kicks in and we think we know everything. Being curious involves observing our surroundings with fresh eyes. Being curious means we ask questions about how or why things work. In our relationships, we try to understand people and the things they are interested in. When we are curious, we ask questions about why people like certain activities or hold certain viewpoints, rather than judging others for their interests or views.
  4. Practice Gratitude. Most of the time in life, we tend to ignore good things that happen. We might notice the good thing for a second, but then move on with our day. Gratitude involves prioritizing focus on the good things in our lives. And it takes work. But it’s worth it. Practicing gratitude can make us happier and improve our relationships with others. Two easy gratitude practices are keeping a journal about the things you are thankful for, and writing a letter expressing gratitude to someone you haven’t properly thanked.
  5. Hang out with Kids. When I spend time with children, it forces me to do the other things on this list: not rush, be mindful, be curious, and express gratitude. The next time you spend time with a child, make a commitment to take your time and tune in to the child. Get on the child’s level. If the child is small, sit on the ground. Observe the child and see what they are interested in. Try to join in with the child’s play. If you go somewhere with the child, notice how the child engages with the environment and try to engage in a similar way. Children usually engage the world with fresh eyes and a sense of curiosity. Try to do the same. Ask a lot of questions, even if they seem silly. And always say yes to a train ride.

Discussion: Which of the 5 ideas for reclaiming your happiness with the normal do you think you could try in the New Year?

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