It’s easy to become immune to, and much less grateful for, the small things in our lives. We allow our feelings of being overwhelmed and our yearning for achievement and material satisfaction to overshadow the precious little gems of life that are all around us.
In our quest to experience the more seductive and exciting “highs,” we have lost sight of the fact that most of life, indeed a vast majority of it, is made up of small things and moments, one right after the other.
Learning to appreciate these things and moments play a huge role in creating a peaceful and happy life. Although the things themselves may be small, failing to appreciate them has really big ramifications!
The failure to acknowledge and, indeed, appreciate the small things breeds an inability to be touched by life.
Rather than seeing and experiencing the perfection of the divine plan, most of it is instead disregarded. The wonder and awe of life is diminished, the feelings associated with appreciation and gratitude are missed, and, perhaps more than anything, you’ll be sweating the small stuff all the time. The reason this happens is that when your attention isn’t on what’s right, beautiful, special and mysterious, it will be on what’s wrong, what’s irritating, and what’s missing. Your focus of attention will encourage you to be “on edge” and on the lookout for problems instead of the small things that bring you big joy and are right in front of you.
Unfortunately, this type of attention feeds on itself and becomes a way of seeing and experiencing the world. You’ll be too busy thinking about the condescending remark you overheard at lunch or the way your blouse doesn’t look quite right to notice the friendly smile of the checkout clerk or the beautiful art on the classroom wall.
On the other hand, when the bulk of your attention is on what’s right with your life, what’s precious and special, the payoff is enormous. You’ll re-experience the feeling that life is magical and every moment is to be treasured. Instead of complaining about the litter on the side of the road, you’ll notice the colors of the trees and plants. Again, your attention will feed on itself and, over time, you’ll notice more and more things to be grateful for. Your habit becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When you talk to anyone who is very sick or who has had a near death experience, they will tell you that the things you usually think are “big” are, in fact, relatively insignificant; whereas the things you think are small are, in fact, what’s most important. Money, for example, or physical beauty, or an accomplishment, or a material possession can seem to be the end-all, feeling extremely important, even more than life and death issues. Yet, when looking back on your life, it’s very likely that these things that once were in clear focus have lost their luster. They will seem less important, maybe even superficial. On the other hand, the beauty of nature, the touch of newborn fingers wrapped around your own, a lovely smile, or the gift of friendship, will be precious and indeed priceless.
If you knew that you only had one day to live, what would you think about—your car or favorite pair of shoes or would it be the more everyday joys that occupy your mind?
A person who celebrates only the big stuff and “highs” will have only fleeting moments of happiness, at best. On the other hand, a person who feels grateful for the small things in life will be happy a majority of the time. Virtually everywhere she looks, she will find cause for celebration.
This isn’t a prescription to pretend that things are better than they are or a suggestion that their isn’t plenty of ugliness and pain in the world. There is. What it is, however, is the acknowledgement that when you are honest and reflective about what’s important in life, it’s the smaller things that win the prize.
Kristine Carlson captivated readers worldwide with her first three bestsellers Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women and An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love: The True Story of the Best Gift Ever Given of her life with her late husband, Dr. Richard Carlson. In the first new book in the Don’t Sweat series since Richard’s passing, Kristine shares her wisdom with moms, offering tried-and-true advice that will empower them to find greater peace, joy, and harmony within themselves and their homes. Check out the new book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms. For more on Kristine, please visit her website dontsweatmoms.com, or on Facebook or Twitter.
* Photo by Istvan Penzes
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A young man with an unusually happy disposition once came to meet me in Jerusalem. I asked him, "What's your secret?"
He told me, "When I was 11 years old, God gave me a gift of happiness. I was riding my bicycle when a strong gust of wind blew me onto the ground into the path of an oncoming truck. The truck ran over me and cut off my leg.
"As I lay there bleeding, I realized that I might have to live the rest of my life without a leg. How depressing! But then I realized that being depressed won't get my leg back. So I decided right then and there not to waste my life despairing.
"When my parents arrived at the hospital they were shocked and grieving. I told them, 'I've already adapted. Now you also have to get used to this.'
"Ever since then, I see my friends getting upset over little things: their bus came late, they got a bad grade on a test, somebody insulted them. But I just enjoy life."
At age 11, this young man attained the clarity that it is a waste of energy to focus on what you are missing, and that the key to happiness is to take pleasure in what you have. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why are so many people unhappy?
Happiness Is a State of Mind
People often think happiness is based on what you achieve and acquire. My whole life would improve if I had a new car...
I just need a better job and then I can relax and be happy...
If only I met the right girl...
You get the car and what happens? For a whole week you're walking on air. Then you go right back to being unhappy.
Happiness comes from mastering the art of appreciating.
Happiness is not a happening; it's a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.
As the Talmud says, "Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has" (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1).
That's why the morning prayers begin with a series of blessings thanking God for the simple and obvious:
Thank you, God, for giving me life Thank God I can see, that I can use my hands and feet, that I can think.
Happiness comes from mastering the art of appreciating and consciously enjoying what you already have.
On the Ledge
Imagine you are standing on the 70th floor of the Empire State Building, gazing at the cityscape. Suddenly a rather large man brusquely pushes past you, wrenches the window open and announces his intention to jump.
You yell out, "Stop! Don't do it!"
The six-foot-five figure turns to you and menacingly says, "Try to stop me and I'll take you with me!"
"Umm... No problem, sir. Have a safe trip. Any last words?"
"Let me tell you my troubles," he says. "My wife left me, my kids won't talk to me, I lost my job and my pet turtle died. So why should I go on living?"
Suddenly you have a flash of inspiration.
"Sir, close your eyes for a minute and imagine that you are blind. No colors, no sights of children playing, no fields of flowers, no sunset. Now imagine that suddenly there's a miracle. You open your eyes and your vision is restored! Are you going to jump? Or will you stick around for a week to enjoy the sights?"
"I'll stay for a week."
"But what happened to all the troubles?"
"I guess they're not so bad. I can see!"
"Well your eyesight is worth at least five million dollars. You're a rich man!"
"Your eyesight is worth at least five million dollars. You're a rich man!"
If you really appreciate your eyesight, the other pains are insignificant. But if you take it all for granted, then nothing in life will ever truly give you joy.
Misconceptions on the Road to Happiness
Misconception #1: "Once I know the tools for being happy, then it will work like magic."
Don't expect the results to come automatically. It is possible to understand how to attain happiness, yet not put it into practice. In fact, many people actually prefer to be comfortable and unhappy, rather than endure the discomfort of changing their habits.
Just as learning any new skill requires effort, you have to be willing to invest serious effort to achieve real happiness.
Misconception #2: "If I become content and satisfied with what I have, I'll lose my motivation to achieve more."
Happiness doesn't drain your energy. It adds more!
Ask a happy person: "I have a boat. Do you want to go fishing?"
"Great! Let's go!"
Now ask someone who is depressed, "C'mon, let's go fishing!"
"I'm tired. Maybe tomorrow. And anyway, it might rain..."
Happy people are energetic and ambitious. There's never enough time to do everything they want to do.
Misconception #3: If I want to be depressed, that's my own prerogative.
A beautiful Sunday afternoon. You're in the park having a picnic with friends. Suddenly the air is pierced by one person complaining: "Who forgot the forks? It's too hot for volleyball. I want to go home already."
When our mood negatively affects others, we recognize we have an obligation to be happy and not spoil the fun. That's why we try to put on a happy face when we're at a party.
But what about when we're at home with our spouse and kids? Or when we trudge into the office on Monday morning?
Like an open pit in the middle of the road, a sourpuss is a public menace. Being happy is part of being considerate to the people around us.
These exercises will increase your gratitude and help you build a solid foundation for a lifetime of happiness:
a. The Daily Pleasure Count
To increase your appreciation of life, pinpoint some things you are extremely grateful for and count them every morning for one month, e.g.: your eyes, your hands, your children, your cat.
Set aside a few minutes each day to contemplate these pleasures and feel gratitude for them.
To really drive this home, sit down with your spouse or friend every evening and discuss one pleasure that each of you had that day. At the very least, you'll have a happier spouse or roommate! You can incorporate this into your family routine so that your children will also learn to appreciate their daily pleasures.
b. One-Hour Blessing-Fest
The next exercise is more challenging.
Spend one hour writing down everything for which you are grateful.
Most people fly through the first 15 minutes. The next 15 minutes the pen moves more slowly. The next 15 minutes get even tougher, but you can pull through if you include your eyebrows and socks...
The last 15 minutes are excruciating.
Once the list is compiled, add one new blessing each day.
The power of this exercise is clear: You must be conscious of all your blessings in order to appreciate whatever new blessings come your way.
c. Prioritize Your Blessings
To become a real expert at appreciation, prioritize your list. Which is more valuable: your hands or your feet? Eyes or ears? Sense of taste or your sense of touch?
Comparing pleasures forces you to articulate the subtle aspects of each one.