“Have a great day.”
Americans have a knack for exaggeration, our president more than most –“huge, best, greatest” being his frequent and usually self-referential contributions — but the rest of us are also guilty of using superlatives in everyday conversation.
“Have a great day,” was the Starbucks barista’s send-off yesterday as she handed me a cup of tea. “Awesome,” was the email comment I just received from a friend for whom I had done a tiny favor.
These comments got me thinking about how to describe most of my days. After a bit of a struggle, I settled on the word “adequate.” If something extra special happens, such as going out to dinner or a play, my days become good days, one degree above adequate. According to my on-line dictionary, one definition of “adequate” is “pretty good.” It’s sad to think that we view a pretty good experience as somehow below par. It could be worse, though, if it were “average,” meaning “usual” or “ordinary.”
The problem as I see it: We’ve reached the point in our culture — the Lake Wobegon” effect — “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Being told we’re less than perfect whether’s it’s on the job, in school, after a music lesson, or in appearance is grounds for considering, if only briefly, the application of a sharp knife to one’s wrists or, minimally, a lawsuit. While I might mock the barista’s use of “great day,” I’m as guilty as anyone else in using exaggeration to label everyday events or conditions. I say “great” (“considerably above normal,” “magnificent,” extraordinary”) when someone refers to any positive situation. Other Person: “I’m going to skip work and sleep in tomorrow. Let’s have lunch.” Me: “Great!”
I can testify personally to the horror of once being called “average.” After my first year on a new job, my supervisor called me in for my end-of-the-year review, which turned out to be an oral report consisting of one sentence: “I can say with confidence that your work this year was average.” It didn’t matter that she was teasing. It felt like the lowest blow she could hit me with.
I have a possible solution to our obsession with greatness, a solution that would only be acceptable to people of a certain age. Years ago, my husband and I spent several Julys in Guanajuato, Mexico living with a Mexican woman, Marilu, (now our Mexican sister). When asked how she was doing, she used an expression –“Estoy contenta” — that I’m considering adopting. “I’m satisfied. I’m content.” What if more of us found ourselves feeling content? Not perfect, not awesome, not great, but also not lacking for anything or requiring much more, simply satisfied. Maybe if we just said, “I’m satisfied,” often, we’d begin to believe that feeling content was a very good way to experience life.