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Happiness is smaller than you think

Happiness is smaller than you think

Are you happy? Happiness is something that all of us want and yet it seems to be so elusive. We want that happiness high of realizing that grand dream: seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, getting married, achieving that promotion. Much of our life is spent pursuing these big goals. We become so focused on them that we drive ourselves too fast and for too long. “I’ll be happy when I achieve….” becomes the mantra we live by.

As we desperately try to chase down happiness we don’t realize its negative effect on the quality of our day-to-day life. Or that trying to pin down happiness can prevent us from being happy. As Viktor Frankel says in his classic book “Man’s Search for Meaning”: “But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue”.

It seems counter-intuitive: to be happy you need to stop trying to be happy. So how does that work? One way is to slow down and appreciate the smaller delights. As Richard O’Connor says in “Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy”: “happiness is smaller than you think”. Those six words provide a great framework for being happier with less effort: just appreciate the small stuff more.

I love to find those small moments of contentment. Savoring my morning cup of tea, being snug inside on a cold and rainy day, dancing around the house to a favorite song or seeing Honey’s excitement when we take her to the beach to play are just a few examples. And from a frugal perspective you’ll notice that they are simple things that cost little but taking the time to stop to enjoy these times really does bring me so much joy.

So, pause for a moment and think of a few small pleasures that you have experienced recently. Perhaps it was a warm, relaxing bath after long commute in bad weather? Or taking the dog for it’s morning walk and being surprised by a glorious sunrise? Or catching up with a friend over a coffee? How good did it feel? You probably did not have to chase these moments down, they just happened. All you needed to do was take the time to notice and enjoy them.  And as you scramble after your big happiness goals you are probably missing many more of these small moments of happiness.

Science also backs up this idea of small moments of happiness. Researchers have found that we prefer smaller, more frequent pleasurable moments over more intense, bigger ones*. So slow down, take a breath and be more aware of yourself and your experiences. Are you surprised by how much happiness you are overlooking? 

Now it’s time to step away from this blog and go enjoy your own small piece of happiness. Enjoy it, savor it, revel in how good it feels and say to yourself “happiness is smaller than I think!”

* Diener, E., Sandvick, E., & Pavot, W. (2009). Happiness is the frequency, not the intensity, of positive versus negative affect. In E Diener (Ed.), Social Indicators Research Series (Vol. 39) The science of wellbeing: The collected works of Ed Diener (pp. 213–231).
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