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Finding Pleasure in Small Things

The practice of finding pleasure in small things — watching a sunrise, long walks in nature, smelling beautiful flowers, the sound of your sleeping child — reminded me of a Ted talk by palliative medicine physician B.J. Miller.

He described being an in-patient at a burn center: “One night, it began to snow outside. I remember my nurses complaining about driving through it. And there was no window in my room, but it was great to just imagine it coming down all sticky. Next day, one of my nurses smuggled in a snowball for me. She brought it in to the unit. I cannot tell you the rapture I felt holding that in my hand, and the coldness dripping onto my burning skin; the miracle of it all, the fascination as I watched it melt and turn into water. In that moment, just being any part of this planet in this universe mattered more to me than whether I lived or died. That little snowball packed all the inspiration I needed to both try to live and be okay if I did not.”

Decades later, while running a hospice center, Miller saw again how much sensual gratification meant to people. Although many of his patients couldn’t eat much, if anything, they loved baking cookies in the shared kitchen. “As long as we have our senses — even just one — we have at least the possibility of accessing what makes us feel human, connected,” Miller explained. “Imagine the ripples of this notion for the millions of people living and dying with dementia. Primal sensorial delights that say the things we don’t have words for, impulses that make us stay present — no need for a past or a future.”

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