You Can Still Have a Perfect Day

An idea from a late CEO is helping me find moments of bliss

It’s been more than two months since the world as we know it was upended, and life has found a way to continue its relentless march forward. New routines have been discovered, but old habits have resurfaced. At home, it’s easy to let the days blend together into a blur of screens.

With summer approaching, I find myself thinking about the book Chasing Daylight, which has been lingering in my mind. Written by the late Eugene O’Kelly, a prominent finance CEO who found out he had terminal brain cancer and only three months to live, the book chronicles his final mission: to die well. The whole story is a deeply moving journey toward acceptance, but the part that I keep coming back to is O’Kelly’s quest for Perfect Days, days made up of a string of blissful, exhilarating moments, which he calls Perfect Moments.

O’Kelly posed the question: “If I told you to aim to create 30 Perfect Days, could you? How long would it take? Thirty days? Six months? Ten years? Never?” It’s a remarkably useful prompt, especially now, during this season of change and reflection.

Some years ago, before I’d picked up the book, I documented my own Perfect Days in my journal (I called them Happy Days). Most of them took place on vacation — for example, there was one day in Lisbon when my now-husband and I got up at dawn, ate the flakiest croissant ever, and while on the train to Sintra, discovered that it was a whole extra hour earlier than we’d thought due to the time change coming in from Spain. The exhilaration we felt at that discovery — one whole extra hour to enjoy our last day of vacation! — was like tripping over a giant pile of rubies. We spent the rest of the day wandering castles, climbing hill after hill to stunning vistas, and stuffing our faces with seafood soup and egg tarts. That day stretched on like the ocean, carrying wave after wave of shimmering promises.

In my records, these special days occurred a handful of times a year. Each felt like a gift. As for the rest of my days, well, it’s not that they were bad. In fact, many were great. But they felt more like the blur of a scene outside the window of a moving car. Too often, they were filled with rumination about a past event, or worry about a present challenge, or quiet anticipation — for dinner, for the weekend, for a promotion, for summer, for a break.

I stopped counting my Perfect Days soon after I had my first child, when whatever screenplay I imagined held the story of my life flew out the window. Reading Chasing Daylight brought back the concept in full force.

For so long, I thought Perfect Days happened to me. That I had to be there at the right place, the right time. There was a heaping dose of luck involved, I figured. Or, even if these days were random, they were as rare as liquid fire and tumbling stars.

I realize now that Perfect Days can be experienced anywhere, anytime. They are made up of a series of Perfect Moments, and it’s up to me whether I choose to be open to them. Do I see only the worst parts of this moment as I write this — the sky is cold and gray, the baby is screaming, the toddler is making unreasonable demands while I’m on a Zoom call — or do I choose to see the best: This is time with my family and we are all together and safe. In our boredom, we will uncover the depth of our creativity.

A Perfect Moment is one when you utterly and wholly feel, when the concept of time recedes into the distance. It’s when both you and your surroundings are alive, brimming with mesmerizing beauty. It’s when you bask in the bliss of the present and choose the very best version of the truth to wrap around yourself. It’s the languorous breath, the feeling of the sun on your skin, the treasures of the past, the laugh of your companions. It’s the gift of choosing how you want to savor the instant.

We don’t get to control all the things that happen in our day or week or year. We don’t pick the cards we are dealt, or what someone around us says, does, or feels. We don’t get to determine all our outcomes. But we can always choose how we respond. There is freedom and power in that.

Though I have attempted, studied, and written about many daily practices, this is the prompt I believe is most important:

How many days will it take to get 30 Perfect Days?

I’m working toward 30.

A version of this piece was originally published in the author’s newsletter The Looking Glass.

Currently: Inspirit. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

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