When you consider the things you most look forward to, you might find yourself listing important occasions: graduation, an exciting new job, a promotion, your yearly vacation, even a COVID-19 vaccine (the end of physical distancing would be a momentous occasion, indeed).
It’s normal to anticipate significant events, but putting all your energy toward these main attractions can make you skip past common (but equally important) parts of your day-to-day life.
Turning your attention toward these moments and giving yourself the chance to enjoy them allows you to bring a little more joy to your everyday life.
The difference between joy and happiness lies at the heart of what it means to enjoy the little things:
- Happiness describes a state of being that might depend (at least a little) on what happens around you. Make no mistake, you can absolutely achieve happiness on your own, but outside events and the actions of others still sometimes have an impact.
- Joy, on the other hand, describes a feeling that can be evoked in an instant. The joyful moments you collect each day add up, instilling satisfaction and contentment even if bigger dreams never come to pass.
The tips below offer ways to enjoy little things every day — and most of them cost nothing at all. Everyone deserves little luxuries, like a nice meal out or a bouquet of flowers. But you can still create pleasurable moments when you don’t have cash to spare.
You may have heard the advice to “enjoy the little things” so often that the words have become almost meaningless. But research suggests this little phrase has some big benefits behind it.
A 2012 study linked greater appreciation to increased life satisfaction even more so than personality traits, gratitude, and demographic factors, such as gender, age, and ethnicity.
Taking time to appreciate the pleasures life brings, however small, can promote satisfaction even when things don’t turn out how you hoped.
Perhaps you feel a little sad about being single, especially as friends begin moving in with their partners, announcing weddings, or having children.
At the same time, you might feel a profound glee upon waking up in a bed that’s all yours in a completely quiet house, with a day you can spend doing anything you please.
A habit of appreciating small moments of pleasure and joy that bubble up without warning or planning often contribute more to lasting happiness than big days that only come around rarely.
Pursuing these good vibes might even improve your health.
The positive emotions you experience when savoring life’s little joys could:
If you battle with your snooze button every morning, this tip might make you groan — but go on, give it a try anyway.
If the thought doesn’t faze you at all, giving yourself an extra challenge by aiming for 30 minutes earlier than usual.
You might feel a little groggy, but try to pay attention to sensations you don’t usually have time to experience. The world often feels different in the morning, so step outside (or stand near an open window) to savor your morning beverage of choice.
Instead of zeroing in on negatives, such as your dingy apartment complex or the trash in your neighbor’s yard, notice the positive things. Maybe it’s the friendly cat who comes to say hello, the chilly morning air, or the last streaks of dawn in the brightening sky.
Waking up earlier also means you don’t need to rush through your morning. Think of this 15 minutes as a gift to yourself — a way to start your day with satisfaction and calm.
Walking is a low-key way to step out of your usual space and find pleasure in the natural world.
A walk can help relieve stress and promote positive emotions by way of instant mood boosters like sunlight and fresh air. It can also awaken curiosity and creativity as you notice birds and plants you’ve never seen before (try an app like iNaturalist to learn more about what you see).
If you have access to a big, natural space like a park or wildlife preserve, great. But even a block with a couple of nice trees or some blooming weeds can do the job.
Noticing your surroundings can help keep your thoughts in the present and maximize the pleasure of your walk. Try inviting a loved one along to make it more enjoyable.
Not feeling up to a walk? Sitting outside on your porch or under a comfortable tree can inspire calm and happiness, too.
Research from 2020 suggests household gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, can improve emotional wellness.
Watering your seedling and watching it grow into a flower- or fruit-bearing plant can feel immensely rewarding. If your plant does produce something edible, you can savor your achievement again when eating something you grew yourself.
Evidence also suggests a more direct link between gardening and happiness.
Even if you don’t have a green thumb, a small, easy-to-manage houseplant or two can lift your spirits and offer another small way to take pleasure in nature when stuck in the house because of rain, quarantine, or anything else.
Choose one of these plants and you’ll be rewarded with not only boosted joy, but also fresher air.
In this age of digital connection, text messages often beat out old-fashioned telephone calls as the preferred method of communication.
Text messages certainly are quicker and more convenient. Phone calls that last a while can be challenging when you have other things to do, or dislike talking on the phone.
Yet the voice of a loved one is a small pleasure many people tend to overlook.
Try setting aside 10 or 15 minutes in your day to call a friend or family member. Hearing them laugh or tell an animated story can bring you joy in a way that a text message, devoid of tone of voice, can’t quite compare to.
Remember, you aren’t the only one enjoying the call. It’ll probably brighten their day, too.
People often rush through the act of eating, but food can bring a lot of joy into your daily life, if you let it. Baking is one way to make your kitchen a happier place.
Baking isn’t just a way to produce delicious baked goods. It can also help calm anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health symptoms.
There’s also a certain kind of magic (OK, chemistry) involved in mixing ingredients and watching them take on a completely different form.
If you’ve ever kneaded dough for a really long time or beat eggs to the ribbon stage, you’ll know baking can also become an exercise in mindfulness — another key to appreciating small moments of life as they happen.
With an internet full of recipes to accommodate any dietary needs, why not give it a try? The act of baking can prove rewarding in itself, but you can savor a completely different type of pleasure upon taste-testing what you make.
If you enjoy reading, you’re probably well acquainted with the delight of getting absorbed by a riveting story and making friends with new characters.
Or maybe you’re a nonfiction diehard who savors facts, a humorous turn of phrase, or a well-reasoned argument.
Reading can excite and inspire. It can expose you to different perspectives and distract you from worries. What’s more, reading an account of someone else’s distress can renew appreciation of your own life.
According to a 2013 survey by Booktrust, a U.K. charity that promotes reading, regular readers tend to:
- have greater life satisfaction
- report higher levels of happiness
- believe their lives are worthwhile
Audiobooks offer a great alternative to physical books if you can’t make reading a regular habit for any reason. (Yes, listening to an audiobook counts as reading!)
OK, so stars are pretty vast things, not little things. Taking a few minutes in the evening to step outside and look up, however, is a small action that can create a great sense of awe and joy.
You don’t need to be an astronomer to appreciate the beauty of the night sky. Note any constellations you recognize, and try to find a few new ones. If you can get to a remote location, look to the southern sky for a glimpse of the Milky Way.
According to 2014 research exploring the benefits of nighttime nature activities, regular stargazers report positive emotions like relaxation and wonder, along with a sense of connection to nature.
Your life, like much of the universe, has yet to be explored. Prioritizing this exploration instead of focusing on your destination can help increase your enjoyment of the little moments that lead you to the bigger ones.
Encouraging yourself to take pleasure in the mundane as well as the exciting can make your life richer.
Instead of moving from one rewarding goal to the next, look at life itself — and all the simple joys it has to offer — as the reward.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.