Happy Little Things

Thinking Small

April 22, 2019

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash
If you’ve been reading Catching Happiness for a while, you know I’m big on baby steps and small changes. Small is less intimidating and scary. Like most people, I feel less resistance to small changes and adjustments than to big, sweeping reorganizations. And when I’m feeling resistant to change, or struggling with a big goal or project, one way to break through that resistance is to find the absolute smallest next step and take it.

On days when I find it hard to write, I sneak beneath my resistance radar by tackling one small detail, or setting my timer for 15 minutes and allowing myself to stop writing after it goes off. Instead of reorganizing my whole house, I clean out one drawer. (I love you Marie Kondo, but I can’t do it your way.) I’ve been practicing French with the Duolingo app for months because it takes less than 10 minutes to complete my daily goal. I probably won’t become fluent this way, but I’m learning and having fun, and certainly known more of the language than if I had done nothing at all. (And I know how to say, “There’s a cow in the living room!”* in French, for which I will be forever grateful!)

We sometimes make the mistake of thinking only a big gesture or major commitment will do if we want to make an impact. That’s not always true—often it’s a small thing that makes you stand out. The authors of The Power of Small, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, call it “going the extra inch.” And even an extra inch is something many people just don’t get around to. As Thaler and Koval write, “We often think about taking that extra step. A nagging thought crosses our minds as we’re racing to complete nine other tasks, worrying over how far behind we are on the day’s to-do list. Unfortunately, we don’t heed that inner voice. We forget. Or we get too busy and that mental Post-it note gets lost in the tsunami of other demands.”

There are plenty of tiny steps that will help us reach our goals and make us happier: If we want to give more to charity, start by donating $5. If we want to keep in better touch with friends or family, send a text message that we’re thinking about them. If we want to read more, pick up a collection of short stories or essays we can easily dip into. Don’t try to write a book—write a sentence.

Big dreams and new, improved habits are made up of many tiny steps. A happy life is made up of small, simple pleasures and everyday adventures—the cup of tea, the walk with the dog, the movie night with your spouse or best friend, the work project done well and turned in on time. Thinking small can make a big, big difference.

What small thing can you do today that will make you happier?

*Il y a une vache dans le salon, in case you were wondering…

Beauty

The Beauty of Small

April 19, 2019

“It is in the details of life that beauty is revealed, sustained, and nurtured.”
—Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance
 
Here are a few small things I love:


Monarch butterfly caterpillar on milkweed



That nose




Those freckles






What are a few of your favorite small things?


Quotes. Sarah Juniper Rabkin

You Don’t Have to Change the World

April 12, 2019

Photo by 1AmFcS on Unsplash

“I don’t mean that we should sell ourselves short or be cavalier about our potential or responsibilities. But I do think that, misled by self-critical and self-punishing voices, one can easily misconstrue one’s calling. In thinking we need to Change the World, we may miss opportunities to perform the small yet profound acts of which we’re truly capable.”
—Sarah Juniper Rabkin, What I Learned at Bug Camp


Happy Little Things

The Power of Little Things

April 08, 2019


Last week, after a poor night’s sleep, I sat at my desk handling a number of small, irritating-but-necessary tasks. Outside, the sky was gray, threatening rain. I ran into minor problems with a couple of my tasks, and by lunchtime I was feeling frustrated, tired, and as if a heavy weight lay over my head. Nothing terrible had happened, but tell that to my mood. Sometimes it doesn’t take something big to influence your mood—little things add up.

Little bad or irritating things all morning can add up to a grumpy, out-of-sorts afternoon. (As I was typing this sentence, I typed grumply instead of grumpy—and I rather like it! It sounds just like I felt!)

Little good things, on the other hand—simple pleasures or happy little things, whatever you want to call them—can improve an ordinary or even a grumply day.

On the day in question, I treated myself to a cup of good quality hot chocolate, and an afternoon visit to my horse. It helped.

More happy little things I turn to to keep the grumply days at bay:

  • Walking through the yard to see what’s blooming
  • Cuddling with my dog or cat
  • Dropping everything to read for a few minutes
  • A rest—even 10 minutes sitting quietly can be surprisingly refreshing

It also pays to nip small nuisances in the bud whenever possible—replacing the kitchen tool that doesn’t work properly and annoys you every time you use it, or making sure each location that needs it has a set of scissors, a note pad and pen, for example.

In April on Catching Happiness, we’re going to explore how little things, baby steps, and tiny changes can add up to a happier life. I hope you’ll join me!

What are some happy little things that lift your mood? 

Marge Saiser

We Had All Time

April 05, 2019

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Marge Saiser, who lives in Nebraska, is a fine and a very lucky poet. With the passing of each year her poems have gotten stronger and deeper. That's an enviable direction for a writer. This poem was published in The Briar Cliff Review and it looks back wisely and wistfully over a rich life. Saiser's most recent book is The Woman in the Moon from the Backwaters Press.

Weren’t We Beautiful

growing into ourselves
earnest and funny we were
angels of some kind, smiling visitors
the light we lived in was gorgeous
we looked up and into the camera
the ordinary things we did with our hands
or how we turned and walked
or looked back we lifted the child
spooned food into his mouth
the camera held it, stayed it
there we are in our lives as if
we had all time
as if we would stand in that room
and wear that shirt those glasses
as if that light
without end
would shine on us
and from us.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2018 by Marjorie Saiser, "Weren't We Beautiful," from The Briar Cliff Review, (Vol. 30, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Marjorie Saiser and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month—No Foolin’

April 01, 2019


Since my romantic youth, I’ve had an interest in poetry. My fantastic creative writing teacher, Marie Tollstrup, taught us to read and write poetry, and a love for the form has stayed with me. I’m not truly “educated” about poetry—but I know what I like! April is National Poetry Month, so what better time to rekindle my love affair with poetry?

Many people are intimidated by poetry, think they don’t like it, or don’t understand it. But if you enjoy listening to music with words, you enjoy poetry! At least one form of it.

If you’d like to explore poetry, here are a few simple ways you might enjoy dipping into this art form:

I’ve been enjoying The Slowdown podcast, by Tracy K. Smith, the current U.S. Poet Laureate. During each short (six minutes or less!) episode, Smith “delivers a different way to see the world—through poetry.” Listen while you drink your morning coffee or tea. Smith’s voice is lovely and soothing, and I love how she weaves together everyday life experiences and poems.

I’m going to check out from my library at least one of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets editions. Aren’t they beautiful? 

This is a good explanation of haiku, with examples. (I love haiku!)  

Poetry apps are also a good and quick way to get a bite-sized taste of poetry. You can read, write, or listen to poetry on your phone! See Book Riot’s list of poetry apps here. These were the most intriguing to me:

Poemhunter (Android and iOS) has a library of 1.4 million poems.

Wings—Poems & Poets for the Love of Poetry. Unfortunately for me, Wings doesn’t have an Android version, because it looks like fun. You can read poetry, read about poetry, combine your own photos with poems, etc. 

For Haiku lovers, check out THF Haiku, The Haiku Foundation’s portable library of haiku. 

Hear poetry read by great actors by downloading The Poetry Hour (Android and iOS).

Read previous Catching Happiness posts on National Poetry Month:





I’m sorry to say I’ve gotten away from reading poetry on a regular basis, so I appreciate the reminder of National Poetry Month. I know I have an unread book or two of poetry somewhere on my shelves, and, of course, the library beckons. Reading (and sometimes writing) poetry brings me pleasure, and I encourage you to give it a try if it’s something you’d like to explore. During the month of April, I’ll share a few poems on Fridays, too.

If you enjoy poetry, please share the name of your favorite poem or poet in the comments below!

P.S. If you enjoyed the Action for Happiness Mindful March calendar, click here for Active April


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