What song makes you smile in spite of yourself and maybe gets your toes tapping, head bopping, or hips swaying? Is there a smell that conjures up good memories or just makes you feel happy? A taste? Something you see? Something you touch? I’ll go first: Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake, cookies baking, a juicy, ripe peach (also Hint of Lime Tostitos until I eat too much, which I inevitably do, and then not so much), fresh flowers, and a soft blanket wrapped around me. Different things do it for different people. In addition to the little things that I already know fill my senses, I try to remember there are little things all around me that I haven’t found yet. Finding joy in the little things is a ridiculously easy way to feel happier.

Finding Joy

To find joy in the little things is a two part exercise. Part one is knowing what brings you joy or being open to finding out. Part two is slowing down and giving yourself time and space for the finding. The emphasis here is on the little things. It’s an arena where “go big or go home” doesn’t apply and isn’t welcome. When we hold out for the big dramatic gestures, the sea changes, the ultimate of anything, we risk missing so many bright spots along the way that could be building into something tremendous. 

As an aside, I had lunch with an old friend last week who turned me on to one of my new favorite terms, godwinks. People look for signs all the time and I find comfort and delight in the thought that the little things may have a divine connection. If you’re religious, reframing little things as godwinks may motivate you to slow down and find them. Though not particularly religious myself, I find the thought motivating nonetheless. This could have everything to do with my personality type and my tendency to meet external expectations. If God is winking, I must pay attention. But that discussion will take place in a future blog post dedicated to Gretchen Rubin’s theory of the Four Tendencies, coming soon.

Too Busy to Find Joy

Giving yourself time and space for the finding can be challenging. We often race through life to get to the next thing and barely register the small things that can make all the difference. We race for a number of reasons. Topping the list for many of us is the sense that we’re busy and we’re sure we’re busy even when we’re not. My generation grew up professionally at a time when it was a badge of honor to be crazy busy. When you receive positive reinforcement and validation for always being too busy, you make sure you’re always too busy – too busy to sleep, too busy to think, too busy to eat (well, not that one, not me, ever), too busy to see people, too busy to talk, too busy to exercise, too busy to breathe. Too busy to find joy? It’s not the easiest switch to turn off. 

We are busy and we are stressed. About 27% of U.S. adults report that they are so stressed most days that they are unable to function. Over 75% experienced at least one stress-related symptom in the last month, like headache, fatigue, nervousness or feeling depressed.

Too busy is sometimes a harsh reality and sometimes a maladaptive behavior. When you’re too busy, it’s hard to be truly present. Maybe that’s just a side effect of busyness and maybe it’s a motivator. Rushing through a busy life might bring with it a lack of feeling and sometimes numbness is exactly what we think we want. This busy life brings with it an inordinate amount of stress and upset. There are ways to deal with the stress but sometimes we prefer not to deal and opt in, instead, to numbness.

A constant quest for life changing “big” things can also get in the way. The search for the big can obscure the pleasures of the small.

Step into the Present

But small is key. Small steps, small things can disproportionately affect the way we feel. Big things hit you in the face so you can’t miss them but the little things take presence and patience, both of which are virtues that optimize the way we feel, if only we give ourselves the chance, the grace and the space to exercise them.

We all know being present is a much healthier way to live but even the healthiest among don’t always want to deal with stress in the moment. Sometimes we choose to park it, put our heads down and deal with stress at a later, more convenient time. That kind of compartmentalization, which requires temporary numbing to be effective, can be a strategic, mindful decision.

The rest of the time, making an effort to be present unlocks a whole lotta good. Employing all 5 senses when we’re present enables us to multiply our findings. In the dead of winter, I may not be able to find a perfect peach to cheer up my taste buds. I need options. Rather than defaulting to a family pack of Hint of Lime Tostitos, I might take a hot shower, go for a walk and look for beautiful flowers, or crank up my music and have a dance party. Or I may venture out with an open mind in the hope I’ll be aware of godwinks.

The Power of Little Things

The little things can change a task, mood, or day. It’s great to start with a go-to list and equally important to be open to what’s out there. A few months ago, I was waiting to cross the street. Just before the stoplight changed, it made the usual beep-beep-beep sound. I suddenly realized it didn’t sound like “beep” at all. It sounded much more like “fuck-fuck-fuck,” prompting me to laugh out loud. It changed my mood for the entire day. Find joy in the little things. And wonder. Also laughter. And a happier self.

Thinking and Trying

Something to think about: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

Something to try: Feeling blah? Science shows you can boost happiness by taking time for small moments of delight. Try the NPR Joy Generator

Coaching Can Help

Coaching can help if you want to develop a mindfulness practice, keep a gratitude journal, or be more present but you’re feeling stuck. Sign up for a free 15 minute discovery call here and let’s see if we can’t unstick you.

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