Why becoming ordinary made me happy

I’ve spent most of my life terrified of being ordinary. Not being like everyone else was the driving force behind many of my decisions, big and small, from dying my hair purple in high school to breaking off an engagement to a perfectly nice guy in my twenties. The source of this fear probably goes back to being what people kindly called a “precocious” kid. I read at an early age and was drawn to books that were too old for me in both style and substance. Adults noticed this and told me I was smart. What I heard was, “You’re different.” I took this to heart and “different” became my brand.

Not being ordinary is hard work. It means refusing to go on the office Starbucks run and instead brewing special ordered triple-filtered Himalayan green tea that tastes like straw. It means watching a critically acclaimed post-modern Danish film (with subtitles) instead of binging on Fixer Upper. Above all it means not joining in on the Electric Slide at weddings, the wave at baseball games, or generally anything else people are doing that looks like fun.

Not being ordinary is also lonely. Usually it means most of your friends are also trying hard to not to be like everyone else. This makes them terrible friends. First off, it’s impossible to make plans with them. You can’t just go out to dinner spur of the moment, you must spend two hours arguing over which restaurant is about to become the next big thing so you can be seen there before it gets cool. You also can’t have an actual conversation; instead you exchange statements about all the cutting-edge things you’ve recently done/read/tasted.

“I started brewing my coffee in a hand-crafted vacuum pot made from yak bones. You have to try it, it’s unbelievable.”

“Cool. Did I tell you about my trip to Brunei? Totally unspoiled, like Papua New Guinea was ten years ago. And instead of using public transportation I made my own scooter out of found objects from the trash.”

My biggest fear about becoming ordinary was that it would mean I’d never do anything truly extraordinary, like climb Mount Everest, dance for the New York City Ballet, or navigate around the world in my sailboat. And honestly, I probably won’t. I don’t even like boats. Also, those things sound exhausting. Let’s face it, living an exceptional life is a lot easier when you’re twenty-five, functional on four hours of sleep, and physically incapable of getting a hangover.

I think it’s the combination of getting older and experiencing routine life events like buying a house and having a baby that has allowed me to see the joy in the ordinary. I used to need big, exciting things to make me happy, like a European vacation or dinner at Gramercy Tavern. You know what makes me happy now?  Getting eight hours of sleep. A good hair day. The timer on my coffee maker that allows a steaming cup of caffeine to be ready when I come downstairs in the morning. The simple things, yes, but that’s a cliché. It’s more that they are the easy things; attainable on a daily basis. (Except, maybe, for the good hair day.)  

Not being ordinary was a draining, daily exercise. It took so much energy that I either missed many of life’s small delights or deemed them unworthy of celebration. Becoming ordinary, on the other hand, has been effortless. Much like the Earth turning or Matthew McConaughey’s transformation from rom-com pinup to actual actor, I didn’t notice it happening. One day I just looked up and saw I was drinking a Starbucks latte without caring that it wasn’t made from single origin beans.

I’m cringing as I write this because it all sounds so…boring. Rather than fireworks and Dom Perignon, these days my life looks more like a pumpkin spice scented candle and a twelve-dollar glass of Merlot. I have become everything I ever feared, and it’s glorious. All those things I thought made me special were really barriers against human connection. There’s a reason shared experiences make people happy. They connect us to each other. They bolster our sense of belonging and make life feel more meaningful. They are why flash mobs are a thing, and why 1.9 billion people watched the royal wedding. Most of all, they are why there’s no reason to sit on the sidelines when everyone else is dancing Gangnam style, no matter how stupid it looks.

I learned this late in life, but I’m making up for lost time. I’m savoring the mundane. I’m cultivating curiosity about what everyone else is doing instead of judging it. The result is that I feel less “different” and more connected. So at the next wedding I attend don’t look for me on the sidelines; I’ll be the one waving to you from the conga line.