Many of us believe that it’s the big accomplishments or celebrations that bring the most joy in life. We think, “if I can just graduate/get promoted/get a clear scan at my next appointment/go on that vacation/be in that relationship, then I’ll be happy.” But what if it’s the little moments that truly add up to a meaningful, joyful life?
Smaller bits of daily joy can add up to more happiness and satisfaction in life than milestone moments, says Mark Flanagan, LCSW, MPH, MA, a Piedmont outpatient oncology social worker.
“If you’re dealing with chronic stress, physical illness or major mental health issues, it can be tempting to focus on ‘getting over it,’” says Flanagan. “But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, those difficult things don’t go away quickly. A cancer diagnosis or the grief of losing a loved one can stick around for a while.”
That’s why it’s essential to care for yourself during difficult experiences rather than waiting for a certain outcome or celebration. You can do this by seeking small bits of happiness each day.
“When you frequently practice something you enjoy, such as running, journaling or gardening, you’ll reshape how you experience the world,” says Flanagan. “By consistently injecting little pieces of joy for weeks or months, it’ll shape your quality of life. Small amounts of joy over time can change how you interact with life. In a real sense, the small joy experiences can shape whether you view seasons of your life as a happy or stressful time.”
As you seek more joyful experiences, you’ll tend to have more of them.
“If you find joy in each day, it doesn’t make the hard things go away, but it makes your life experience richer,” he says.
How to find what brings you joy
Flanagan suggests the following exercise:
Then, try to do one to two of those activities every day. The amount of time you spend doesn’t matter, just that you’re consistent.
Don’t overthink it. Your activities don’t have to be perfect. If something doesn’t bring you joy, note that. Try something outside your comfort zone. It may bring more levity and lightness to your life.
“If you’re intentional about creating these experiences, you’ll add more joy to your life,” he explains. “It’s important to appreciate life on a daily basis. Those who have had near-death or life-altering experiences know it’s important to experience each day to the fullest.”
He adds, “Life isn’t infinite. It’s important to not wait for a magical moment to feel fulfilled.”
Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.