A Formula for a Pretty Good Day

I was chatting with a young friend a week ago. He’s a freshman at college, and it’s an adjustment, compounded by a feeling he has that he’s not at the right school. He’s a bit depressed, somewhat lonely, but willing to stick it out for a semester as he searches for a school that’s a better fit.

The fact I didn’t really know what to tell him didn’t keep me from giving all sorts of ideas, encouragement and advice. But I only said one thing of real value.

I told him to simply try to have a pretty good day. Have a bunch of pretty good days.

He asked, “What makes a day pretty good?”

That’s a pretty good question, I thought to myself. And after a moment I had a pretty good answer.

Here are four things. Hit all four you’ll have a great day. Hit one and the day won’t suck. Hit two, and the day will be pretty good.

1) Have one good meal. You don’t have to eat out three times, you don’t need to spend a lot of money or do a lot of cooking. Make a sandwich you like. Go to a place that serves a decent breakfast. Have some good leftovers.

But don’t eat in the car while driving, don’t eat while rushing somewhere. Sit. Take your time. Eat something pretty good and enjoy it.

For me, two poached eggs on toast is great, add some sausage and it’s heaven. If I start my day that way it’s almost always a pretty good day. The thing that makes it unbeatable is having breakfast with a friend, which leads us to number 2

2) Have a good conversation. It can be with a friend, it can be with a stranger. It can be brief or last an hour. It’s best in person, ok as a phone call, and if the best you can do is text, then by all means text.

A good conversation means equal parts listening and talking. Don’t deliver a monologue, nor be an audience of one. Listen as much as you speak. Try not to complain. Explore ideas. Relive a memory. Compare experiences. Don’t one-up, don’t be sarcastic and flippant. Strive to learn something new, which leads us to number three…

3) Have a small, cheap adventure. Do something you haven’t done. See something you’ve never seen before. Take a small risk.

Talk to a stranger. Walk home a different way. Watch 20 minutes of tv that’s in a different language. Drive ten minutes through a strange neighborhood. Go into a store you’d never go into. Not into sports? Shop for hockey sticks and then catchers masks and then archery equipment. Visit a graveyard. Take a different train than usual. Learn something new. Read something new.

I have a pass that lets me co-work at 50 different locations in NYC. I love it. A different neighborhood to walk through. A different space to work in. Different hallways to wander down with different logos on the doors.

4) Help someone. This really works better with strangers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be helpful to a friend or family member.

So, basically, this is the help the little old lady across the street thing. If you come across someone with a problem, do what you can to help. Hold a door, pick up things that have been dropped, loan a quarter for a parking meter — any little thing like that. Today, at a subway station, some strangers and I all ran into issues with ticket machine that wasn’t working. We got through it, eventually everyone went their separate ways, but for a moment, we were all bonded and working together, and it was nice. I needed a ticket to get to lunch with two of my cousins, which will cover Good Meal and Good Conversation. And then I’m off to direct a table read of a new play for a few hours, which will cover Small Cheap Adventure.

It’s going to be a pretty good day, I think.

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