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.
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.