A helpful and hilarious anthology from America’s top motivational humorists
I used to think I was unique.
I’ve been a speaker, comic, and magician for my entire adult life; I’ve never had a real job. I’ve traveled the world performing humor and magic and telling groups to lighten up and mellow out. For me, life is fun and funny. And filled with magic.
I tend to see humor, joy, hilarity, and magic everywhere. I see it at work and at the grocery story. I notice it while I’m in my car and while I’m at home with my kids. And I used to think this magical perspective I had on the world was something I was born with.
But through the years, I’ve realized that this perspective is available to each and every one of us, and is completely learnable. I’ve come to understand that what I call “magic” is actually quite ordinary. Anybody can learn Ordinary Magic. And all of us should.
What is Ordinary Magic?
To understand Ordinary Magic, it’s best to start by telling you what it isn’t. Ordinary Magic isn’t the tricks magicians do on stage. Because those aren’t magic – they’re just tricks. (While we’re on the subject, the Easter Bunny is a bit iffy, too.)
Here’s the real secret this magician loves to share: Magic is a feeling. Ordinary Magic is that feeling you get when you find a five-dollar bill in an old pair of jeans. Or when you taste that first delicious sip of coffee in the morning. Or when you run late for an appointment, yet all the traffic lights magically turn green and the normally over-crowded parking lot has an open space for you–right in front!
Ordinary Magic results from all the little “stuff” throughout the day–and throughout our lives–that puts us in a good mood. It’s good luck, a beautiful sight, a wonderful smell, a nice feeling. Ordinary Magic is anything that makes us say, “How cool is that?!”
You might be thinking, “Yeah, yeah. Magic is a feeling, yada yada, blah blah. What has this got to do with me? Who cares?”
We care about Ordinary Magic because it makes our lives worth living. It makes day-to-day happenings exciting, interesting, and joyful. It adds fun to our lives. And to my way of thinking, fun is what it’s all about. Our job in life is not just to cross the garden; it’s to cross it and enjoy the trip. We stop to smell the flowers because it adds to the fun. It makes our lives more magical.
Big Events are Magical. Duh!
We already know the huge events of our lives–promotions, weddings, big vacations, parties, and births–feel magical. But, as exciting and important as these events are, our lives are mostly made up of the day-to-day stuff. The getting-by stuff. The just-plain-existing stuff. Although the calendar is sprinkled with holidays, there are (obviously) many more days that are just . . . well . . . days. We spend much of our time working, driving our kids to soccer practice, taking care of the yard, shopping at the grocery store–the straightforward stuff. But Ordinary Magic can make these routine events exciting, interesting, important–and, of course, fun.
For example, I remember taking my oldest daughter, Claire, to the garden center when she was three. She loves to eat tomatoes so I thought it would be fun to buy some plants for our back yard.
At the store, we started by staring at the tomato plant display. I questioned the advantages of the Beef Steak versus Early Girl varieties. Claire just stared at the plants. I wondered if it was worth buying the big plants for $12–the ones with little tomatoes already on them–or if we should get the cheap six-pack of tiny plants with no fruits yet. Claire kept staring. Then I considered the importance of fertilizer. Claire finally couldn’t contain herself any longer. She pulled on my hand and excitedly shouted, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Guess what! Guess what! Tomatoes grow . . . on plants!”
Claire was right. It’s very cool–magical even–that tomatoes grow on plants. It’s fun that we can buy them, plant them, and watch them grow. As an adult, I took the whole experience for granted. But my daughter reminded me that magic surrounds us, even during errands to the garden store. If we don’t spend effort and energy enjoying the day-to-day parts of our lives, we’re missing out on the magic available to us all the time.
Three Types of People
The old joke says something like, “There are three types of people: Those who are good at math and the other kind.” Of course, we all know this is silly and that there must be a fourth group: Those who don’t care about math because they own calculators.
But with Ordinary Magic, it clearly comes down to two groups. The first group consists of people who cannot see any magic . . . period. We know folks like this–we’re usually seated next to one of them at big family feasts. They see doom and gloom everywhere. When asked how they’re doing, they actually tell all those who will listen their dreary stories. “My rash is back; my grown kids are a bunch of classless louts; my job is boring; my car smells bad; I hate this hot weather.” Yada yada yada. They are down, and they do their best to pull us down with them. After spending time with them, we feel like taking a shower.
The other group consists of people who are upbeat, optimistic, enthusiastic, excited. Life is great, the weather’s wonderful, they love (at least parts of) their jobs, they enjoy what they do and the people they’re around. Those in this second group naturally understand the concept of Ordinary Magic.
Here’s the really good news: We get to choose to which group we want to belong. Amazing! Magic! If we fail to see (or worse, if we ignore) those tiny moments of everyday joy, we find ourselves drained, stressed, and humorless. But the opposite is equally true: By simply looking out for and focusing on wonderful moments, feelings, and events, our lives become more magical.
Putting Ordinary Magic into Life
To fill our lives with the Ordinary Magic, all we have to do is notice it. I did something recently that reminded me what happens when we do. I bought a minivan–and learned a lesson, too. (Buying a mini-van isn’t easy; in fact, it’s very hard to spend that much money on a car you don’t want.)
Cars have never been one of my hobbies. As long as my car starts, has a comfy seat, sports a great radio and as many buttons as possible, I don’t care what’s under the hood. (Hey! Just because I’m not a car guy doesn’t mean I’m not a buttons kinda guy!)
I’m especially not a minivan guy. Until recently, I barely knew they existed; they were practically invisible to me.
But then, when my wife, Kim, and I found ourselves in the market to buy a minivan, all that changed. I noticed minivans on the roads everywhere! I went from never even seeing one to not being able to step off the curb without almost being run over by one.
It’s a common phenomenon: Things that have been there all along only become visible when we decide to look for them. Ordinary Magic is no different. If you don’t see magic now, just open your eyes and deliberately hunt for it. And when you do–put on your seatbelt and get ready for a fun ride.
Ever Notice that Kids Always Notice?
I have three kids–one of each. A boy, a girl, and the kind with a calculator! (Sometimes, you should even look for magic in stupid jokes.) One of the things I love most about kids–aside from the tax deduction–is that they see the world as a magical place all the time. They don’t have to try; they just do it.
Take my son, Ben. Please. Nobody can find Ordinary Magic like this kid. Ben’s favorite game is “Chase.” He loves this simple game: I chase Ben and he runs away like a crack-crazed idiot on laughing gas, screaming, giggling, and waving his arms. (With my little boy, Chase is a very loud game.)
One day we were playing Chase, with Ben doing his customary careening across the lawn, totally absorbed in this game, screaming and shouting and laughing all the way. Then without warning–or any apparent reason–he stopped. And I mean suddenly stopped. It was as though somebody turned off a switch.
He yelled at me, “Daddy! Freeze!” I stopped. (It was either that or run over the little guy.) Ben quietly kneeled down and picked a dandelion that had gone to seed. With a huge, cheek-puffing blow, his breath sent the seeds flying through the air. He stood still in silence as the wind carried them away.
“OK, Daddy. Wheeeeeeeeeee!” And he was off again! The switch had turned back on. He was playing Chase as though he hadn’t ever stopped.
Then it was my turn to be curious. “Ben, stop. Whoa! Let me ask you, why’d you blow away the dandelion seeds? What was that all about?” That’s when Ben proved that sometimes three year olds are the wisest of all. He said, “Daddy, I always do that.”
Ben understood. He got it. He was smart in the way that only children can be smart. Ben was, and always has been, on the lookout for Ordinary Magic. I’ll never forget the lesson Ben taught me that day: Not only should we stop and smell the flowers, we should also pay close attention to members of the broad-leaf weed family.
Thinking back, I must have stepped over that stupid dandelion two or three times before Ben picked it out. Given the chance, I would have stepped over it dozens of times without even noticing it. And even if I did see it, I would have recognized it for what it was–a weed. A blemish. Something to be ignored. Something to get rid of. Something to kill.
But because Ben is used to looking for the joy in life (except when he hasn’t had his afternoon nap, or when his sister steps on his train, or when you tell him to get cleaned up for dinner, or . . .), he couldn’t miss that dandelion. He saw it as a toy. An opportunity for fun. A chance at joy. He saw the dandelion as magic. Certainly he couldn’t have ignored it.
Think about it for yourself. What dandelions are you ignoring?
It’s So Obvious, It Sounds Stupid
With Ordinary Magic, we not only notice things that put us in a good humor; we pass over the yucky stuff. If we’re busy celebrating the fact that the glass is half full, it’s hard to whine about it being half empty.
My wife, Kim, reminded me of this point recently when I found my nephew, my son, and one of my daughters in the bathroom. (None of these kids is older than six.) They were painting their fingernails and toenails an assortment of colors, and were really proud of the color “patterns” they’d created. But they had spilled three different bottles of fingernail polish all over the counter, part of the wall, and the floor.
I stormed into the bathroom and got mad. I didn’t see any Ordinary Magic in this scene. Highly annoyed, I hollered at the kids, and then I got some towels and started cleaning, using up most of my wife’s nail-polish-remover just to clean the baseboards. The kids, meanwhile, ignored me and continued to giggle away, happily trying to finish each other’s toes.
Kim came to see what the commotion was about, and started laughing. She didn’t just snicker–she went for all-out hysteria. I became even more annoyed. Obviously, she didn’t notice how our baseboards were going to reflect “Coral Sunset” forever, how the boys were looking suspiciously sassy, how she was going to have to buy a brand new bottle of polish remover–how terrible it all was.
When I grumped at her, she made my own point perfectly by saying, “Brad, why don’t you mellow out, lighten up, and follow the advice you tell your audiences every day?”
She was right. The kids looked adorable as they giggled. Not only had they painted their nails, they’d covered half their fingertips, too. The bathroom smelled like a chemical factory, but the fingernail polish remover was working fine (and it’s cheap!). This was one of those fun and funny parent moments, and I missed it. I got bogged down in the mess and failed to notice the Magic. But Kim got it. She focused on the laughter, on their goofy nails, and on the whole silly situation.
It’s Almost Too Simple
I realize this Ordinary Magic concept seems oversimplified. I know our lives–both at work and at home–are complicated. The front page of the newspaper reminds us we live in a thorny, complex, and dangerous place. Life can be hard, stressful, and filled with potholes. And, yeah, many of our problems are a tad more serious than spilled fingernail polish.
But the amazing and truly magical part is this: Life really is that simple. It isn’t easy, but it’s simple. Even during the most difficult times, we find magic in our choices. In every situation, we can either focus on the misery, or concentrate on the magic. We can wallow in our challenges or we can search for joy.
How do you change your life? The answer is simple: Search for, discover, and enjoy Ordinary Magic.
I’m Not Unique
I’ve been lucky because my job as a professional funny person has helped me to see that life is fun, funny, and filled with magic. I’m lucky in that seeing the amusing side of things has (almost) always been easy for me. And as I said before, I used to think that this outlook made me unique.
But that’s not true. Ordinary Magic is accessible to each and every one of us. All of us can–and should–look for, notice, and enjoy a magical life. And I ask you, “How cool is that?!”
Copyright 2003 Â©Brad Montgomery, Denver, Colorado All rights reserved.