The ex­tra­or­di­nary in the or­di­nary

In be­com­ing so showy, so­ci­ety has be­come more su­per­fi­cial, ne­glect­ing to cel­e­brate the most mean­ing­ful lit­tle things that make life re­ally worth­while.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX - JACQUELINE PEREIRA

GRAND ges­tures make mo­ments to re­mem­ber, right? The very pub­lic ro­man­tic mar­riage pro­posal. The de­cid­edly over-the-top birth­day cel­e­bra­tions. Tick­ing off an ex­ten­sive bucket-list of places to see, things to do.

Now that new-age wed­dings have ar­rived, I’m not so sure. For now, a wed­ding does not seem to be an event where two people who love each other sim­ply get mar­ried and in­vite their friends and fam­ily to share their hap­pi­ness.

In­stead, it has be­come a colour-co­or­di­nated ex­trav­a­ganza. Fes­tooned with frip­pery and weighed down by ex­pec­ta­tion, it is al­most a form of com­pe­ti­tion. Cou­ples strive to outdo one an­other with the best, the big­gest and the grand­est wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions. Gone are the days, it seems, of mod­est gath­er­ings filled with gen­uine love and laugh­ter. Mod­ern wed­dings have in­stead be­come – for the guests at least – a rather tire­some af­fair.

From the mid-mass Mid­dle­ton wave to re­leas­ing snow-white doves af­ter the nup­tials, dra­matic ex­hi­bi­tion­ism ap­pears to be the or­der of the day. Un­can­nily, re­al­ity TV has crept into our in­ti­mate spa­ces, cap­tur­ing our ev­ery pri­vate mo­ment for an au­di­ence. And, with the ad­vent of wed­ding plan­ners, noth­ing is left to chance, ev­ery­thing is care­fully chore­ographed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the spe­cial lo­ca­tion, the dress­ing-up for the day and the pay­ing of at­ten­tion to de­tail. Feel­ing good about such a mo­men­tous day is a given, but wed­ding events have be­come all too mer­ce­nary. It’s like go­ing into bat­tle, with the troops cor­ralled, guns blaz­ing, sent out of the trenches and over the top – in more ways than one. The ul­ti­mate in­ten­tion? To emerge as tri­umphant vic­tors.

The grand ges­ture used to be orig­i­nal. But an­other lengthy video clip of child­hood di­a­per snaps, and friends’ and fam­ily’s com­ments about the cou­ple? It’s a sta­ple now at ev­ery wed­ding.

An­other metic­u­lously primed and propped se­ries of pre-cer­e­mony, des­ti­na­tion-driven photo shots? Thank God mod­ern cou­ples have at least ditched the heav­ily-po­maded cos­tumed ver­sions. And the cir­cusin­spired photo booths and wish­ing trees – does any­one even look at these once the eu­pho­ria is over?

It’s the same with Valen­tine’s Day. The pres­sure mounts weeks ahead, even as des­per­ate part­ners queue at the card sec­tion to choose a man­u­fac­tured mis­sive for their loved one just hours be­fore the din­ner is due. They then pro­ceed to pub­licly ex­change gifts, trade spoon­fuls of food and look deep into each other’s eyes. Then the bill ar­rives, the sum of in­flated prices and an unin­spir­ing menu in a room full of forced love.

Out­do­ing is all around us. Coun­tries around the world com­pete for the big­gest and bright­est fire­works spec­ta­cle on New Year’s Eve. Renowned sport­ing events such as the World Cup and the Olympics stand out. In want­ing to be no­ticed, each host coun­try strives to eclipse pre­de­ces­sors with daz­zling open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies, state-of-the-art venues and celebri­ties ga­lore.

Sadly, art has given way to ar­ti­fice. These days it’s hard to be im­pressed by grand ges­tures. Per­haps we’ve seen too many. With easy me­dia ac­cess we are inun­dated with im­ages, sound­bites and staged dra­mas of ev­ery pos­si­ble per­mu­ta­tion. Or is my aver­sion to such grand ges­tures a sign of age?

The At­lantic re­cently pub­lished a piece based on a study in the Jour­nal Of Con­sumer Re­search. It states that age is the defin­ing fac­tor in how you de­rive joy, whether from the grand, ex­tra­or­di­nary ges­tures or the smaller, or­di­nary mo­ments.

Polling 221 par­tic­i­pants aged 18 to 79, the study mea­sured their hap­pi­ness lev­els by ask­ing them to re­call ei­ther an ex­tra­or­di­nary or or­di­nary mo­ment and rate how much it con­trib­uted to their hap­pi­ness. Or­di­nary mo­ments in­cluded get­ting a yummy frap­puc­cino, while ex­tra­or­di­nary cov­ered items such as a Hawai­ian hol­i­day.

The Amer­i­can ex­per­i­ment showed that older people saw or­di­nary mo­ments as more self-defin­ing than young people do. Older people’s per­cep­tion of a limited fu­ture led to them plac­ing a higher value on or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ences.

Some­times it is the hum­drum ex­pe­ri­ences that are most mean­ing­ful, as they are usu­ally spon­ta­neous, gen­uine and ful­fill­ing. This surely is what people, young or old, re­mem­ber the most. Not the ex­tra­or­di­nary that we of­ten strive for.

An­other re­cent trend­ing ar­ti­cle re­ported Hong Kong film star Chow Yuen Fatt’s an­nounce­ment about donat­ing his HK$1bil (RM426mil) for­tune to char­ity af­ter his death. While that is laud­able, what was most mem­o­rable was how Chow still sees him­self as an aver­age man.

He is thrifty, takes pub­lic trans­port and wears old clothes. He even uses an out­dated cell­phone. Rather than his vast for­tune, it is his life’s or­di­nary mo­ments that I re­mem­ber read­ing about. And people don’t of­ten recog­nise him be­cause they are all star­ing at their mo­biles.

Do we al­ways re­mem­ber the grand ges­tures? It’s the lit­tle things, the tiny gen­uine things that be­come our most cher­ished mem­o­ries. The pri­vate prom­ise. The def­i­nitely down-played one-can­dle birth­day cake. Sit­ting qui­etly with one you love. Now that’s ex­tra­or­di­nary.

De­light­ing in dead ends, Jacqueline Pereira seeks un­ex­pected en­coun­ters to counter the out­moded. Find her on Face­book at Jac­que­linePereira-Writ­ing-on.

Chow yuen Fatt is to do­nate his HK$1bil (rM426mil) for­tune to char­ity af­ter his death. He still sees him­self as ‘an aver­age man’ who is happy to use crowded pub­lic buses and old clothes.

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