One Question for a More Joyful Day

091216 Gabby Orcut1

We were having dinner with our good friends Baxter and Lauren last night, and they mentioned that their daughter Margaux, age 4, has spontaneously started asking a new question at dinner. It seems like a cute, childlike question, but after answering it every night for a week, they noticed it had some surprising effects. The question Margaux asks is:

What was the silliest part of your day?

It’s an endearing question, the perfect example of a child trying to make “small talk.” But what Lauren observed was that being asked to reflect on her day through the lens of silliness made her notice delightful or weird moments that otherwise would’ve just been noise in a busy day. She talked about a moment that she and Margaux had seen a woman walking down the street fully dressed but wearing a shower cap! Moments like that usually disappear in the blur of commuting and meetings and all the rest, but Margaux’s question gave them an opportunity to share the moment with the rest of the family and laugh about it all together.

But this wasn’t the most profound effect of Margaux’s question. Lauren said that some days she couldn’t immediately think of something silly that had happened. Yet when she looked at some of the most annoying or frustrating encounters of her day, she realized that these were actually very silly moments. They were misunderstandings, or lapses in attention — such as when Lauren missed her subway stop one evening because she was focused on an email. When she looked at these frustrating moments through the lens of silliness, they took on a totally different cast. While it was stressful and irritating to miss her stop, when she reflected on it later, it was easy to laugh at it. It changed it from a moment of self-judgment (“How could I have done that?”) to a moment of humor (“What a funny thing! I can’t believe I completely forgot where I was!”).

“How was your day?” is the standard question we ask when we see our loved ones after being apart most of the day. But this question is very unspecific. It skates across the surface, just picking up whatever general impressions are top of mind: great, fine, just ok, annoying. Questions like, “What’s something you’re grateful for today?” are better because they act like a fishing line; they prompt us to recall the good moments and bring them up to the surface. I like Margaux’s question even better because it reframes experiences that might have been negative into positive ones. And just as having a daily gratitude ritual makes you more attentive to the things you have to be thankful for, I imagine over time Margaux’s question might actually heighten your attention to the silly things in life. Because you know you’ll be talking about it later, you actually look for more silliness in the world around you, more joy.

So, what was the silliest part of your day? And do you have any other questions you like to ask at the end of a day?

Photo by Gabby Orcutt

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