Our Lives Should Not Be Determined by What is “Practical”
Today’s culture has made “practical” a supreme value. We celebrate the fact that objects like Smartphones and Nespresso make things just so practical. It’s funny, because “practical” isn’t genuinely a word used for things we actually like. Toilet paper is practical. So are melt-in-the-mouth medications. Wellington boots are practical. My favourite high heeled party shoes are not. We want our commute to be practical, not so much our marriage. Romeo and Juliet did not fall in love because it was so practical.
Yet today, we are increasingly living in a society where we would sacrifice our planet as well as our mental wellbeing in the name of being practical.
Take coffee. For me, Coffee isn’t just something I drink. It is something that I smell and taste and do. It is a morning ritual, something that comforts me and grounds me. I use one of those Italian coffee pots, with different layers. You fill the bottom with water and then put coffee in the filter over the water and screw the jug on the top, and then you put it on the cooker, and you hear the water boil and smell the coffee before it is ready, and then you pour it into a mug and feel the warmth on your hands, and taste proper, good quality coffee. Shared with others, it tastes even better.
Sometimes, when I’m in a rush, I will instead grab a coffee from a machine, but that feels like taking a pill to function better and starts my day off on a completely different foot. When I spend time making my coffee and savouring it, I am sending myself the message that I am allowed to spend time on myself, and my loved ones, doing a ritual which make me feel good. It sends me the message that my time is my own. When I just down a coffee so I can keep my eyes open while I work, I feel like my time belongs to my work, and that I myself have no importance. Plus, in my mundane coffee making ritual, I find a few minutes of mindfulness. A little space in my life for my brain to settle, or to soar.
This is why the disposable coffee-pod craze worries me, and not just because the coffee tastes like shite. They are horrible for the environment — the amount of waste generated each year is enough to circle the world a hundred times over. But they are also horrible for our mental well-being. Mindfulness shouldn’t only be something we do for its own sake in one organised session, it should run through our lives and be found in the ritual things we do. Whether that is going shopping for food rather that ordering online. Smelling the tomatoes and squeezing the mangos and picking food that excites you. Or finding somewhere in a new town — rather than moving around, head buried in Google maps, we should be getting lost and exploring and seeing things we wouldn’t have seen if we had been staring at our screen.
Practicality reduces things to their purely consumer essence, removing all the seemingly unimportant parts of everyday experiences. But all those parts are essential. They create balance and happiness.
Practical is a pretty crappy ambition to have for our lives.
Practical is not enough.