“It is said that a young Boston merchant was caught up in the fervor of the California gold rush. Eager to make his fortune, he sold all his possessions and headed for the rivers that were said to be full of gold nuggets so large that a man could hardly carry them.
One day, after an exhausting and endless work, the young man dipped his sieve in the river and came out empty. His only reward was a growing pile of rocks.
Deeply discouraged after long weeks of fruitless searching, he was ready to give up, but just then an experienced gold prospector approached and pointed out the heap of stones he had amassed.
The young man replied angrily: ‘It’s just a pile of stones, there is no gold here. They have cheated me. I’m going back home’.
The old man walked towards the pile of rocks and smiling said: “There is a lot of gold here, you just have to know where to find it.” He reached down, picked up two rocks, and smashed them. One of them opened revealing some flecks of gold inside.
The young man looked down at the bulging leather bag the old man carried at his waist. And bitterly he told him, ‘I’m looking for nuggets like the ones in your bag, not little specks.’
The old man smiled again, opened his bag and showed it to the young man. When he looked inside, he did not discover large nuggets but thousands of flecks of gold.
‘Son, it seems to me that you are so busy looking for great nuggets, that you have not realized that you can already fill your bag with these precious specks of gold’ – and he walked away.”
The trap of subordinating happiness to great achievements
In life, many times we behave like the young gold digger. We focus so much on the big windfall, achieving impressive success or that disruptive life change that we overlook the little things in life, those details that are often a stronger foundation to build happiness.
In fact, many times we put happiness “on pause”. We think that we will be happy when we achieve that desired promotion, the job of our dreams, the perfect partner or the ideal house. That is equivalent to subordinate our happiness since we make it depend on dreams that could materialize – or not.
We often spend so much time and effort planning and working toward those big goals that we forget that happiness is found in the little things along the way. If we fail to enjoy that journey, it is likely that when we reach our destination and achieve what we have worked so hard for, we will only experience a temporary state of euphoria followed by a feeling of emptiness that pushes us to hit the road again to achieve the new goal that – we believe that this time it will – make us happy.
The problem is that this mentality sets us in a loop. Thus we turn happiness into a kind of mirage, it seems real, but when we get closer and we think we have achieved it, it becomes fleeting and disappears. For that reason, instead of chasing that mirage for much of our life, it is better to start concentrating on the small details. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have goals and dreams, but we should make sure that we try to be happy while trying to achieve them.
In fact, a study conducted at California State University concluded that, although “pursuing goals satisfies our need to fulfill ourselves as a person”, rather than “focusing fundamentally on the results we are pursuing, it is more beneficial to develop mindfulness and awareness of the present moment, focusing on the process of achieving those goals”. In other words, we must not forget to enjoy the present.
The 3 keys to find happiness in the little things in life
Much of our life is full of simple events that often go unnoticed, either because of their daily nature or because the mere fact that having them makes us think that they will be there forever, which prevents us from realizing their value. How to rediscover happiness in the little things in life?
1. Feel and perceive the world through the eyes of a child
After decades of social conditioning and years of living focused on achieving our goals, it is difficult to rediscover happiness in the small details. For that reason, a good starting point is to look at children as they have a special ability to find joy in the simplest things.
It is important that we give ourselves permission to re-experience life as when we were children, letting wonder and curiosity re-enter flooding everything on its path. For example, we can try something that we would have liked to do when we were little.
2. Disconnect to connect with what matters
We live too fast. Immersed in that speed we hardly have time to look around us. However, in order to appreciate the little things in life we need to learn to press the pause button. We must pause and acknowledge the existence of this moment, here and now.
While we are working, for example, we can pause to appreciate the sun, the landscape that stretches out before our eyes, or the aroma of hot coffee or tea. That helps us replenish energy and fills us with positivity. Likewise, it is important to disconnect a bit from technology to connect with the world around us and with ourselves. Then a “miracle” happens: the more we disconnect, the more we can connect with what makes us happy.
3. Keep a gratitude journal
Gratitude is one of the emotions that opens the door to happiness. For this reason, it is important that we take nothing for granted and take the time to look around us and feel grateful. The effects of gratefulness can radically change our lives, helping us to realize all that we have achieved or all those small miracles that we enjoy every day.
There are many things to be grateful for, from simply breathing on our own to being able to walk, see, smell, or get up each day. Being able to create memorable moments with friends and family, love and be loved, enjoy a sunny day and delight in a moonlit night; They are all everyday things that, however, allow us to free ourselves from bad moods and pessimism, helping us to feed our spirits and face life with a more optimistic attitude.
When we get used to appreciating the little things in life, we unconsciously work to develop the habit of finding happiness in the details. And that is a worthwhile change.
Teranishi, C. et. Al. (2020) Pursuit of Goals in the Search for Happiness: A Mixed-Method Multidimensional Study of Well-Being. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research; 25: 245-259.