Happiness in the Little Things

It’s the little things. Just four words, but a gigantic difference in one’s life. In today’s hyper-consumptive world, many neglect the little things, and their mental health and well-being face consequences as a result.

I believe human flourishing utterly depends on those little things. Those warm, soft cookies after a frustrating day. Petrichor (the smell outside after it rains). The grin of happiness on the face of a child. The 97 percent of the time when autocorrect gets it right. Those rays of sunshine or that acoustic that is really on point. And many, many more. It’s the little things that add up to make the big difference in the end. It’s those things that make life worth living.

Positive psychology has only been around for two decades, but it has struck a chord with many. It is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a respite from the constant bombardment of nihilism and defeatism pretty much everyone in society receives every day. Positive psychology can help facilitate things such as job success through promoting optimism, social support, and the ability to see stress as a challenge, not as stress (that one’s hard for me). There are many inspiring ideas that stream from positive psychology that we can all use: some examples not discussed in this post are flow, CSV, learned optimism, and PERMA.

I think one major role model of the appreciation of the little things is St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Her focus on simplicity in the spiritual life speaks volumes about the importance of the little things. She states that “the good God does not need years to accomplish His work of love in a soul; one ray from His Heart can, in an instant, make His flower bloom for eternity.” As Fr. James would say, “This is what it is all about!” This is what we are called to imitate on this planet!

So how can we focus on positive experiences and forge a path to increase our well-being? Journaling and meditation are two of the best ways, but another simple way is to not simply count gratitudes, but also count grievances. What? Grievances? That will make me depressed!

Calm down for a second. First, count three gratitudes. It does not matter how major or minor they are. “There was a cool homeless drummer on the side of the road today and it made my evening commute slightly better” counts. If you are grateful for it, count it! Try to vary your gratitudes between days as well. Then, count 12 grievances. Ones that actually made your day worse. Sure, you will probably find three, but if you are at six or seven and cannot think of any more, feel free to give up! Your day was not so bad, after all. If you can somehow think of 12 grievances, do not sweat it! Everyone has bad days every once in a while.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I copied and pasted that), the father of flow, tells us that “contrary to what most of us believe, happiness does not simply happen to us. It’s something we make happen.” Following in the example of St. Thérèse and the inviting doctrine of positive psychology, we can improve our well-being and make happiness happen. Just remember, it starts with the little things.