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5 Things I Learnt About Life Thanks to Catherine Gray’s Book “The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary”


Book cover of Catherine Gray’s book The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary

We find ourselves in weird times. Many of us have lost jobs. Others are trying to work from home while trying to look after children and family. Uncertainty is common place and it can be extremely easy to let that overwhelm you. Since Australia went into various stages of lock down I have fluctuated between “We’ll figure this out” to “WHAT IS HAPPENING?!”

If you are reading this, I am sending you some compassion and love through the interwebs.

I purchased Catherine Gray’s book The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary before the world was turned upside-down. It had sat on my to-read list for a while and when everything felt too much a few weeks ago, I decided to pick it up. Even though we are in extraordinary times, I was looking for something to help ground me. Here’s what I learnt from Gray’s advice.

Don’t let the Hedonic Treadmill Rule Your Life

The notion of a hedonic treadmill, or hedonic adaptation, comes from the idea that despite great progress, whether this be an increase of money or success, expectations will continue to rise. Meaning we will inevitably always want more. The issue with this is that there is no evidence to suggest that an increase in money or success results in a permanent increase in happiness.

Always shooting for the stars and always progressing are generally seen as great attributes. When I get my first job, I will get a promotion, then save money, and then get an apartment of my own, then buy my own home, then buy a car, then buy two cars, then get another promotion, and the cycle goes on. By never being satisfied with what we have we run the risk of always pushing for more and never truly being happy.

Hedonic adaptation feels very closely related to capitalist notions of always growing and expanding on profit for the sake of growing profit and nothing else. Challenging hedonic adaptation does not mean never do anything with your life, but rather ask why you want more? Will ever be enough for you? And most importantly, are you happy constantly growing and earning for the sake of it?

Be an Empathetic Bear

Gray uses an example from Brené Brown about empathy and sympathy with a goat and a bear talking to a fox. Let empathy be your default. Empathetic responses rarely start with ‘At least…’ This means not to ‘sunny-side-up’ people when they are down. If someone loses a job, don’t say ‘Well at least you had a job.’ This doesn’t validate people’s emotions, it makes them feel bad for it.

Bodies and Workouts

There is this drive in contemporary societies to have washboard abs, be able to bend yourself into a pretzel, and run a double-marathon. You know, like regular fitness right? Wrong.

In darker days, I was in a relationship that was very toxic. The person I was with would tell me I was fat and ugly. They hated my style and clothes. They would take food off me, and tell me to work out. With these things bouncing around in my head, I had a very horrible relationship with working out. I used it as a punishment. It was to lose weight and/or to punish myself for eating something that was considered ‘bad’.

Years later, when I started to workout for my mental health, for how it made me feel – happy, energetic, strong – it became easier to work out. It was easier to run when I wasn’t worried about how I looked. When I focused on fitness goals that didn’t involve punishment, things improved.

Look for Gratitude in the Small Things

Look, gratitude journals make me throw up in my mouth a little. My eyes cannot help but do a 360 degrees eye roll when I hear the word. It seems so fake at times, so hippy dippy. It can, at times feel like trying to ‘sunny-side-up things’, however, I think, like Gray suggests, there is a different way to think about gratitude.

Gratitude is not about being so thankful that at least you are not living in a cardboard box. But is about noticing small things in your life that bring you some joy. I have added some pictures of things that I have been grateful for…

Cups of good coffee, beaches, seeing a magpie on a walk… They don’t have to be amazing life changing things. The things I am grateful for are all rather… ordinary.

Celebrate 1990s Home Phone Availability

Many of us are stuck at home. Even if we have to go out for work or shopping, we still can’t see people. Now more than ever we are encouraged to be online. Zoom meeting this, FaceTime that… Many of us with office jobs are online in front of screens all day. We have to feel available 24/7. If you don’t reply straight away to a message, do you feel guilty? If so, why? Why do we expect ourselves and others to always be on?

By all means ring friends and connect with people when you need to, but also don’t forget to disconnect. You don’t have to be on all the time. A few weeks ago, I started to spiral. I was checking the news every 5 minutes and checking in on friends. It became impossible to function. The universe intervened and I broke my phone and toe within 48 hours. I couldn’t walk properly and my phone was dead for 2 days. I was forced to disconnect and it made me realise how important it is to let go.

Catherine Gray’s book is a funny and helpful guide about celebrating the ordinary. The five things I have talked about are only a small sample of the amazing things she writes about, and if you are looking for a way to escape and also learn something new about yourself, then this is a good book to start with. As always, share the reading love.

2 thoughts on “5 Things I Learnt About Life Thanks to Catherine Gray’s Book “The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary”

  1. Thanks so much for your wonderful reviews, I love it, I had already bought some of your books (my friend Anna was terrific) and I will probably get this one!
    Take care and thanks so much for sharing your wisdom here!
    Love from Spain, rina
    Ps- missing Zurich a lot, but happy to be in a sunny place right now

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