The One Phrase That Changed My Outlook on Life

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the science of happiness and while it’s all pretty interesting stuff, nothing really spoke to me.  For example, many experts preach mindfulness.  Let me tell you, I’ve tried to be mindful; I really have.  But whenever I try, it goes something like this:


Ok, Jess, think about what you’re feeling right now. Um…I’m feeling like the heat is on too high in this office.  I’m feeling like I should have packed more for lunch because it’s 1:02 and I’m already hungry.   Someone is chewing too loudly.  Someone is talking too loudly.   It’s only 1:04 and I’m pretty sure I’m dying of starvation.  Why did I wear a sweater today, because, seriously, it’s like 97 degrees in here.  All this is doing is making me realize how uncomfortable I am.  Mindfulness sucks.  I give up.


And so it goes.


Then one day last week I read an article, and one phrase, a question actually, really struck me.  It’s a quote by Kurt Vonnegut and it is this:


“My Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now, one of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’”


If this isn’t nice, what is?


So simple.  And yet…it’s not.


Let me tell you how I interpreted this question.  Its significance is actually twofold.  First of all, the adjective good ‘ole Uncle Alex chose was “nice.”  Not fabulous or euphoric or even joyful.  Just…




To me, this means a situation doesn’t necessarily have to be amazing or life altering to be recognized.  Sometimes your first sip of hot coffee in the morning is nice.  Sometimes listening to your kids laughing together is nice.  Newly washed sheets.  Hot showers.  A good hair day.  A conversation with a co-worker.  A hug from a friend.  A warm day in February.   Hitting three green lights in a row.  Muddy little toddler feet.  Sitting down with a glass of wine after a long day.  A genuine smile.  The perfect bite of food.  These things are all nice.  Think about it.  There are so many little, seemingly insignificant events that can be described as nice.


It doesn’t have to be life changing.  It can just be…nice.


Secondly – and here’s the important part – the more positive things you recognize, the happier you feel.  And when it can be something that’s simply “nice” it allows for more opportunities for acknowledgement, and in turn, more happiness.


So, why not try it? Try to notice when something is nice, and when you do, ask yourself, “if this isn’t nice, what is?” My guess is you’ll find a lot more positive things happen during your day than negative (even if it is 112 degrees in your office).  Recognize them, and take a second to acknowledge them as being good.  Positive.  Nice.  I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


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