Don’t Try to Make Your Life Better (Try to Make It Beautiful-er)

beautiful

Photo Credit: ejorpin via Compfight cc

I was at a loss for how to motivate my son.

He was a week away from his classical guitar recital, and he said there was nothing left to practice. He said he’d “mastered” the piece he was planning to play. So, I listened. And I had to admit: he had the rhythm, he was keeping the tempo, and he was playing all the right notes. Yet, even to my tone deaf ears, there was something missing.

But I couldn’t find the words to explain it.

Then, two nights later, I heard about how they teach cursive at a local school. They don’t tell the kids to make their penmanship better; they exhort the children to make it more beautiful. Apparently, the kids instantly understand what this means, and handwriting ceases to feel like homework.

Writing class becomes art class.

So I went home and told my son, “For the rest of the week, instead of trying to make your guitar piece better, try to make it beautiful-er.” And without hesitation, he smiled—the kind of smile you smile when something slakes your thirst or satisfies your hunger. He nodded slow and long. Sure enough, he knew exactly what I meant.

Do you know what I mean, though?

Because somewhere along the way, we tend to trade in beautiful for better.

Better means impressing the right people. It means respect. It means moving up, gaining power, and wielding influence. It means iPhones and Galaxies and a world at our fingertips. It means houses and cars and bank accounts. It means fewer chinks in the armor and fewer mistakes. It means a pristine life.

But, in the end, better also means disappointment.

Because no matter how perfectly we find the rhythm and how successfully we keep up the frantic tempo of life—no matter how many days we can go without missing a note—we begin to sense something essential is missing. Technical perfection leaves us longing for more. So we just keep trying to get better-er.

When, all along, we’re really yearning for something beautiful-er.

My sister’s family recently returned to the U.S. after a decade in Europe. One night, over dinner, they were telling us about the various cultures and languages in Europe and my niece referred to French as a romance language. My son looked at her and asked incredulously, “How can a language be romantic?”

And without missing a beat, she responded, “It’s like a language in cursive.”

Words can be written in cursive and languages can be spoken like cursive. What if our entire lives could be lived in cursive, too? And what if we’re here simply to make our cursive lives beautiful-er?

Beautiful is the stuff that reaches right in, puts electrical paddles on our heart, and shocks us back to life. It’s the stuff that wakes us up. It’s the stuff that makes us good-ache, like easing off stiff shoes after hours on our feet. It’s the stuff that quenches.

Beautiful is a million little moments.

Beautiful is a young boy tenderly moving a caterpillar out of the driveway to safety. Beautiful is sixty years of marriage sitting in a coffee shop together, murmuring quietly, gently. Beautiful is a too-big tip for the waitress with the sad eyes and the smile she gave that clearly cost her more than you can fathom. Beautiful is the YouTube video of the truck driver stopping in the middle of the road to help the elderly woman hunched over a walker. Beautiful is the compliment you gave that you didn’t have to—and the one you received that you could have blown off. Beautiful is speaking someone else’s love language because you know they’ll hear it better that way. Beautiful is the story you listened to that you could have silenced.  Beautiful is knowing you want to apologize and having the courage to actually do it. Beautiful is, in the words of Merton, becoming aware that “the gate of heaven is everywhere.” Beautiful is choosing to believe the gate of heaven is everyone. And beautiful is believing you might just have all of that beautiful within you.

May we live our lives in cursive.

May they become more beautiful with each vanishing day.

Until the work of life becomes the art of living.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

—————

Next Courtyard Conversation: There is a group of people who make my life beautiful-er every time I talk to them: the folks who join our Courtyard Conversations. Just a reminder, the next Conversation is Sunday, March 6, at 2pm CST. To find out more about how to join, click here

Next PostHow to Survive the Darkness of Depression

Free eBook: My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Disclaimer: Kelly's writings represent a combination of his own personal opinions and his professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with him via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Kelly does not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accepts no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for this beautiful article…very timely as Ive strived to work better with clients recently…it is exhausting. Perhaps with a new perspective we can strive for beautiful.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Nancy. Exhausting is an experience that often goes along with the pursuit of better. In contrast, it seems when we focus on beautiful-er, the energy begins to go in the other direction and we are actually rejuvenated. Please check back in and let us know if that happens to you!

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    What a fantastic motivation— to add beauty to the corner of the world we touch! A thing done begrudgingly or halfheartedly or spitefully robs what we’ve done of what it could have been. But to focus on doing it as beautifully as we can really adds value: to our lives and to those around us.
    I am thankful for the things you write, Kelly.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Shel, I’m thankful for the things you write about what I write. 🙂 I love the nuance you introduce here. That an action isn’t necessarily beautiful or not beautiful, but the reason for doing it makes it so. For instance, the truck driver helping the woman cross the road could be doing it out of exasperation. Choosing to do it out of care and love is what makes it beautiful. So important to remember this.

  • Dawn McKelvie Cyr

    Well dang. That one got me right in the feels. It was illuminating. Like getting a brand new windshield on your old car. Or the sun coming out after the rain. Thank you.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Dawn, you’re hitting me right in my sweet spot: multiple metaphors. Thank you. : )

  • KLM

    Kelly, you are in the zone! The V-day post and now this. Love your writing. Keep up the beautifuler work!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Wow, thank you for that!

  • Mimi Weaver

    This is… beautiful! Thank you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Mimi, and thank you!

  • William Bennett

    Mmmm – yummy – you certainly made life Beautiful-er with this beautiful cursive art…

    We can even think about the way we walk down the street – in straight, hurried, efficient, rigid, stiff, tension-filled lines with quick, choppy steps – or do we have a soft, gentle bounce, a relaxed sway – a dance of the feet upon the earth and street, sashaying to the rhythms of your breath as delicate, graceful melodies create a symphony of beautiful-er movement with elongated waves of elegance. Somehow children are allowed to be so free and no one thinks anything of it – but we as adults, why do we constrain ourselves from such beauty and grace?

    Imagine a world if everyone walked around with that level of beauty with every step and every breath taken… Wow! That alone would be enough – we’d be in a lovely dance with each other at every moment. May I cut in?

    Imagine this mantra, “How can I make life more beautiful-er today?” whispered upon the lips of everyone single person – of our world leaders, politicians, CEOS of large corporations – as they awaken each morning… the walk – the dance – becomes a wondrous ballet of delight!

    Thanks Kelly!

    • drkellyflanagan

      William, this resonates so deeply with me. I gave a staff meeting presentation last year in which I discussed the benefits of mindful walking. How much more awake we can be when we start by choosing the way we walk. Good stuff, thank you!

  • Pingback: Beauty | Erichtho's Descent()

  • Wow! I loved all the beautiful examples you put of how we can make our world more beautiful-er! It was great! Thank you again, Kelly, for such beautiful words!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Jenny! I edited out a number of examples, too, for length. They’re probably endless. It might be fun to just walk around collecting examples of beautiful-er!

  • Ardys Zoellner

    Not only is this one of my favourites of your posts, it is a favourite among all posts I’ve read. A little thrill rippled down my spine as I read it. That is always a good sign. Thank you.

  • Hannah J

    Beautiful post, thank you.

  • Christina Burke Nelson

    Favorite most powerful post I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for giving me this important perspective

  • cindy

    I love your way of expressing ideas and thoughts with beautiful words. Thanks for your posts!

  • Owen Allen

    Just finding your blog. As I’m putting together (somewhat anxiously) a project in dance for men in my rural community, your blog invites me to put beauty up there in front, something I realised I was reluctant.

  • Not only do I think about and approach life differently after reading your posts, but with this one my vocabulary grew. At 58, I’m surprised that I had never heard the word “slakes” before. Thank you 🙂

  • Yvonne

    Thank you for this post! It’s so much easier to live and parent when you’re searching to find the beauty; it truly is all around although much of our culture tries to announce otherwise. You write with beautiful visual words that my teens appreciated. This article also dovetails beautifully with a book I read this winter called ‘Beauty will Save the World’ by Brian Zahnd. Thanks again

  • Grace

    Vaneetha Rendall shared a post today called, The Blessings of Failure, on her blog site danceintherain.com.
    Hers is a courageous life lived in cursive.
    I shared your and her blogs with my Bible study women; fuel for the weary heart and long road indeed. Thank you! 🙂

  • Jamesgirl

    Your work here is cursive beautiful…..so refreshing…causing me to pay attention

  • Thomas E Talucci

    Hello Dr. Kelly,
    Love your psots and your writing. I produce a magazine for my resort here in Bali, Indonesia, called Kula – Community. I am wondering if you would give me permission to republish the story of “Don’t Try to Make Your Life Better (Try to Make It Beautiful-er)” So many of your writings are so pertinent to our community here and I think they would greatly appreciate your perspective. The resort is http://www.desaseni.com, a welnnes, organic, eco yoga resort. Do let me know, it would be an honor! You can also write me directly at tom@desaseni.com. Thank you! Matur Suksma!