Recipe for a good day
Have you ever wondered how Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is even possible? Like, time-wise.
Heads up... mild spoilers of a 30 year old movie ahead.
Ferris and friends clearly live in the suburbs of Chicago, which at best gives them like a 40-minute commute to the city and back. Subtract an hour-and-a-half from their school day, and that leaves them with like five hours to eat at that one restaurant, catch a game at Wrigley, wreck the Porsche, and go for a swim.
I know life comes at you fast, but they must’ve caught like, one inning of that Cubs game.
Anyways, I weirdly relate to this movie. I’m the kind of person who wants to fit more activities into one day than logic allows. When it comes to to-do lists, I can really crank up the heat until every item is crossed off.
As a result, I’m pretty productive most days. But it’s a little too easy to feel like more could’ve been done or that the day could’ve gone better. That becomes a missed opportunity to practice gratitude.
One thing I’ve started trying to practice at the end of each day is doing a short review. Part of this includes a prayer exercise that involves asking myself where I found God that day. Another part includes asking myself if it was a good day.
How do I define a good day?
To me, a good day means I did two of these three things-
I got to explore
I’m an explorer by nature. It’s why I love the things I love.
When I’m traveling, or even on a weekend backpacking trip or work trip, this one’s really easy to accomplish. Going somewhere unfamiliar usually counts as exploring, and that’s probably the type of exploring I get excited about.
That’s not the only type of exploring that I count, though. Sometimes exploring looks like reading a book that takes me to a totally different world. Sometimes it looks like talking to a person with a really wild set of life experiences. Sometimes it looks like going to a restaurant with non-English menus and ordering something at random.
Basically, if I feel like I’ve stepped into something new and unfamiliar, and if I’ve allowed myself to learn or to be amazed, that counts as exploring.
I did something meaningful for somebody else
There are few quotes that I resonate with as much as the one by Martin Luther King that goes, “life’s most urgent and persistent question is what you are doing for others.”
Much like exploring, doing something for others takes so many different forms.
Sometimes it’s as straightforward as making a financial donation to a worthy organization. Sometimes it’s being brave and speaking up for a worthy cause. Sometimes it’s helping somebody else fix something, giving somebody a ride, finding a way to reach out to somebody in a tough spot, or giving some words of encouragement. Spending time with somebody and offering companionship is simple, but sometimes fulfills one of our greatest human needs.
It’s a good day when I know I didn’t just live it for my own benefit, but that somebody else was helped as a result.
I was able to be present
One other thing that matters a lot to me is making sure the day didn’t pass by mindlessly. I want to make sure each one is enjoyed, savored, and experienced fully. In order to live the sort of life I’d like to live, it calls for being totally present.
Prayer, listening, silence, and contemplation are all practices that help. Even in more hectic moments, being able to be deeply observant of my surroundings can allow me to experience being more present.
At the end of the day, I simply don’t want it to feel like I hopped on a treadmill that took me from morning to night without thought. When it feels more like I savored each activity and didn’t simply rush to check everything off of a list, that makes for a good day.
That’s it. Those are my big three. A meaningful act. Exploring. Being present. And I don’t even need to do all three of those things to say it was a good day. Just two.
This really helps.
For as long as I’ve been checking to see if my days have included these elements, I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more enthusiastic about the way life has been. By doing this little exercise, I’ve come to realize that most of my days are pretty good days.
Why do I count it a good day even if I’ve only hit two of the three things?
In short, I want to go easy on myself! Or… I at least don’t want to be too hard on myself, which I’d have a tendency to do if I was all about getting all three. Sometimes, the best way to be present, to serve others, or to explore is through an action that takes up more time and leaves less energy to spend on another objective.
Here are a few other things that in another life or at another time, I might also use as an indicator of a good day.
I got to spend time outside
I got to do something physical
I got to create something
I learned something new
I shared a moment with someone
Here's my tip if you're interested in living more intentionally while practicing gratitude. Come up with your own criteria! And feel free to steal any items right off my list. Have something that you can use to ask yourself if it was a good day. This has been one that’s worked pretty well for me, and I totally don’t mind if you put it to use too. Just find the three indicators that work for you.