It all begins with awareness
Society places great emphasis on the big things. It entices us to purchase fancy new sports cars, embark upon luxury boutique holidays and work ourselves to the bone to climb the career ladder of success.
It seems that happiness can only be found in attaining these things, so we crave them. It’s as if our satisfaction is dependent entirely upon great achievements and the attainment of lavish possessions — but is that really the case?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes books, put it best:
“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
As did artist Andy Warhol:
“You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.”
Every single day, a wealth of small pleasures lies all around us. If we paid a little more attention to them, they could bring us both peace and joy with minimal cost or effort.
It’s the Little Things
There are many simple pleasures in the world that charm us, but those moments of charm are usually few and far between. The issue is that we’re always just so wrapped up in the big things.
To make things more difficult, small pleasures aren’t widely celebrated or often talked about. We guzzle down our meals as we race through each and every moment, but nobody ever tells us to slow down — because they’re just the same.
We live in a culture that’s predicated upon speed and efficiency — getting things done and getting them done fast. There’s simply no time to bother with mindful tea-drinking or frolicking around in the grass, or so it seems.
It’s ironic, really. In our pursuit for large pleasures, those that we expect to make us feel deeply content, we’re only becoming more miserable. Instead, we should learn to find solace in the simple, peace in the modest and contentment right where we are.
Sometimes, when I arrive home late on a summers evening, I step out of my car and look up to the sky. Awaiting my discovery is a beautiful cosmic canvas, onto which an infinite amount of twinkling stars have been painted.
There are thousands of them, bright little spectacles of light dotted across the night sky. A black ocean, teeming with allure and endless possibility.
It’s strange, really, because there are so many stars up there yet we rarely notice them. After catching sight of the beauty above us, we tell ourselves to make an effort to come out and look again soon, to look more frequently and with greater awareness. Alas, we rarely do.
Yet when we do take a moment to observe that twilight blanket above our heads, we’re filled with awe. We feel charmingly diminished by the sheer vastness of what we contemplate. Suddenly, we seem so small, and our problems, so insignificant.
Every moment in our lives is like a sky full of stars — an array of simple pleasures just waiting for our discovery. The rolling fields in which we walk, the aromatic foods that we chew and swallow and the comforting delights of a crisp wintry afternoon. The small things are always there, yet so rarely are they actually seen.
Small Pleasures as a Form of Therapy
It’s all well and good to talk about those small pleasures that populate our lives, but what’s the point? How can noticing them actually help us?
To understand the true value that a pleasure has to us, we first have to recognize the contribution that it makes to our lives. Therein lies its therapeutic potential.
Any particular pleasure can be connected to one or more of four key therapeutic anchors:
- Remembering: It reminds us of something that’s important to us, but that also has a tendency to slip from our awareness, like an old friend, favorite song or cherished memory.
- Dignity of suffering: Suffering is, indeed, inevitable, but it’s also linked to feelings of panic and desperation. Some simple pleasures can help us to cope better with our sorrows, like indulgent pessimism, evenings of self-care or sharing our troubles with friends.
- Recentering: Simple pleasures can often work to provide balance. They remind us to be present, rooting our focus in the now rather than losing ourselves in worries about the past or future. Sunbathing, coffee-drinking, and reading are all examples.
- Growth: We all get stuck in our fears from time-to-time — the unending legacies of our bad past experiences. Some small pleasures are moments in which we’re reminded of our own personal growth, like getting to know somebody new or feeling relaxed in the face of your fears.
Becoming aware of the value that each simple pleasure provides hones our ability to see others like it. It also reminds us that, in noticing these things, we are making a conscious effort to improve our lives and feel happier.
In many ways, noticing small pleasures is a mindfulness practice. Instead of being swept up in our day-to-day routine or becoming lost in thought, we’re chaining out focus to this moment and all that it entails.
When thinking about mindfulness, most of us think that meditation is the only answer. While it can help tremendously to meditate regularly, there’s more to being present than simply sitting in silence at routine moments.
Meditation loses its value unless we actually carry that mindful awareness into our day-to-day lives. In bringing our attention to simple pleasures, we’re practicing the skill that meditation involves: to be here, now.
As Julie van Amerongen puts its,
‘The world is made what it is each day in part by countless tiny, almost unnoticeable things. When we practice greeting the world with awareness, we begin to tune into things, little things, happening all around us’
A List of Simple Pleasures
This article wouldn’t be complete without a list of simple pleasures for you to get started with. Of course, these aren’t the only pleasures in life. There are many more waiting for you to discover yourself, but here are fifteen to get you going.
- House plants
- The smell of new books
- Summer nights
- Blueberry muffins
- A hot bath
- Sunday mornings
- Being by the sea
- Unexpected acts of kindness
- Your favorite shirt
- Laughing until you cry
- Perfectly-toasted bread
Our usual attitude to small pleasures is to assume that they are, although perfectly nice, quite insignificant. We may savor them for a moment, but before long they’re gone from our awareness once again.
In our pursuit of the big stuff, we forget to notice the simple things that populate our daily lives. By making a conscious effort to pay more attention to them, we stand to become both happier and more mindful, content with little and grateful for what we have.
So the next time that you’re walking along a pavement or sitting at your desk or waiting in line at a coffee shop, look around. Close your eyes for a moment, then open them and notice what you didn’t see before.
There may just be a tiny miracle unfolding beneath your nose.
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I’m Adrian. If you’d like, I can send free daily tips about succeeding as a creative (and staying sane along the way) right to your inbox in bitesize chunks.