Here are two things that might surprise you:
Regular small accomplishments add more to your happiness than a few major wins
Two small cookies over two separate occasions are more enjoyable than one giant cookie all at once (even if the giant cookie is bigger than the two small cookies combined)
WHEN IT COMES TO HAPPINESS, FREQUENCY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SHEER SIZE OF SOMETHING.
One reason is that we tend to evaluate our own happiness based on what’s going on in our daily lives, so we’re sensitive to the small things, good and bad, that happen to us on an average day. (This is different from how we perceive meaning in our lives. In that case, we tend to look at the big picture.) This means that frequent small accomplishments can add up to a whole lot of good feeling.
We also have an amazing ability to adapt to new circumstances. This adaptation skill is a double-edged sword—it allows us to thrive in many circumstances, but it also puts us on the “hedonic treadmill” where we quickly stop appreciating things that we once believed would bring us lasting happiness.
Ever received a raise? Unless it moved you from not being able to meet your basic needs to meeting them, you likely started taking your new standard for granted very quickly.
Bringing this down to cookie scale, you might actually stop enjoying the giant cookie after the fourth or fifth bite. The rest of your cookie-eating would be pretty ho-hum, believe it or not. But putting a couple days between bites would keep you from adapting to your new cookie-ful state of being. The optimal cookie-eating experience would be sparse, but each bite would be well worth it.
So, what are the lessons here?
- First, it’s important to savor the little things. As trite as it sounds, the small pleasures in life really do determine how happy we feel. Striving for the big things is great for adding meaning to our life, but striving without appreciating the small stuff won’t make us any happier. Both are necessary for the good life.
- Second, spread good experiences out over time. Another way of saying this might be: learn to delay gratification. Remember that a little goes a long way.
- Third, when going through a crisis of confidence—something we all go through at one time or another—focus on re-building your sense of self through small, daily accomplishments. Make sure most of the things on your To Do list are small, achievable items—running errands, sending a letter, baking a cake for a friend—so that you can feel the power of small wins. Save the big stuff for when you’re feeling on top of your game again.
How do you use the power of little things in your life?