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The Pleasure of Simple Things

There is very little that can compare with the joy of waking up to an early winter’s morning game drive in the Karoo (a semi-desert region in South Africa). It’s the gentle crackling of frost underfoot, and the stinging sensation of the cold touching your cheeks that adds to the exhilaration of being out before the sun has risen. And then it’s the drive itself… The slow, steady chugging of the Land Rover’s diesel engine, whilst being swaddled in warm ponchos, creates a somnambulatory mood, where each sighting, and each beautiful vista appears as something out of a dream. 

You eventually reach the pinnacle of some high point, and just when it seems like your morning coffee will never come, the ranger decides that this is the place. Picnic baskets appear, flasks are opened and long-awaited hot drinks are poured to warm your frozen innards. And then nature puts on a show. 

It starts off as just a glimmer of pinky-orange in the breaking clouds on the distant horizon, and suddenly, as if by some strange magic, all falls silent for just a moment; the veil of night is lifted completely, and nature gasps as the light pours in. A new day is born, and we are reborn with it. 

The appreciation of beauty is one of humanity’s most precious qualities. Whether it is an appreciation of some of the finer movements of the classical composers, or finding the meaning in a beautiful line of poetry, we all encounter beauty in ways unique to us, that enable us to experience life beyond what may be considered mundane. The ability to live beyond ourselves, and experience the here and now in a reflective way is a true gift. To be able to look at something and say ‘It is good!’, a Divine treasure passed down to us.  

Within a strengths-based approach to wellbeing, the appreciation of beauty and excellence is considered a key strength. It involves discipline because one needs to stop what you’re doing, and begin to notice the world around you. One does not have to travel to far flung  places to experience beauty -  it truly is all around us in the seemingly small, simple things. A lovely painting may appeal to one as you pass a shop window in Winchester, the singing of Choristers and Quiristers going about their practices, a lovely service in the Cathedral, where a quiet half hour may be spent being part of Evensong.  

Peterson and Seligman’s 'Character Strengths and Virtues' define the appreciation of beauty and excellence as “the human tendency to feel powerful self-transcendent emotions.” We are all capable of it, we just need to put ourselves in the way of it in the hubbub of our daily lives. 

We also need to take the time to teach our children how to slow down, be still, and enjoy something for the sake of it. The Thursday Reflection at school is one of the key moments in our week when we can stop for a few minutes to consider a big idea, or examine a topic for its own sake. Building this discipline into our daily lives, will enable us all to stick our heads above the parapet just enough to appreciate all that we have, and grow towards experiencing a bit more meaning in what we do. 

Craig Cuyler
Assistant Deputy Head/Director of Wellbeing/Head of PSHEe/
Deputy DSL/ Assistant Housemaster

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