At times, and particularly at the moment, it can be easy to focus on our challenges, perhaps partake in a spot of ‘doom scrolling’ and feel that things will never get better. A good way of preventing this sense of doom enveloping us is to find joy in small things. So join Sam Ntatalikas, wellbeing warrior, as she shares her experience of finding that joy and how you can do it too.
The small things
My husband is Greek (hence my long and unpronounceable surname that happily always trips salespeople up). One-year, pre-COVID, we were visiting family in Greece and I cut my finger on a yoghurt pot. Yep, a yogurt pot! Like a papercut only deeper. It stung like an absolute sod and put me in a bad mood. I berated myself on being utterly hopeless and ridiculous “who cuts themselves opening yoghurt!?”. It didn’t help that mincing raw garlic to go into the yoghurt (along with cucumber, yum!) got into the wound and made my eyes water. At that moment, I felt like the world was against me. FYI, I’m known to be a little bit dramatic.
Suddenly nothing else mattered, just this tiny raver, flashing his neon bum at us.
10 minutes later my husband shouted me, “Saaaaaaaam! Come quick!”. He was looking down at the black tarmac of the road. It was evening, stars were winking down at us, and his body cast a long shadow across the road from the bare bulbs strung up like cheap Christmas lights in the square. We were preparing for an outdoor party of drunken Greek neighbours, terrible singing, and spit roast lamb.
I didn’t move at first, but he was insistent. I meandered over, my finger still sore, my mood dark, and what I saw was utterly magical and unexpected. A tiny firefly was resting on the tarmac, his bottom thrumming a vibrant green, having a little disco all by himself. Think Ibiza circa 1990. I’d never seen a firefly before. I’ve not seen one since. In that moment, my heart leapt into my throat and I was filled with joy. Suddenly nothing else mattered, just this tiny raver, flashing his neon bum at us.
Eventually we were pulled back to the party to throw paper plates (I felt a twinge of regret that they weren’t real plates!), guzzle too much Greek wine, and dance an impossible dance that was all legs and knees and “opa’s!”.
In that moment, my heart leapt into my throat and I was filled with joy.
Perhaps like yours, my life became incredibly small in the pandemic. My husband is in the ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ category. We spent a year holed-up in a two bedroom flat not seeing family or friends. So, whenever I’m feeling down in the dumps I think back to that night and remember that I can find joy in small things.
But how exactly can we do this? I have 3 simple tips.
First, we make a decision
Decide to enjoy little moments.
The writer Michael Thompson, said:
“We can either give our kids a bath or we can get in the bath. We can either sit in the park or we can play in the park. We can either eat dinner or we can learn how to cook. This past decade I have chosen the latter and it has made a world of difference.”
When waking up in the morning try saying to yourself first thing “today I’m going to enjoy small stuff” or if your memory is as shady as mine add an alarm or calendar reminder so that our brain consciously turns to finding a spot of joy in the day.
That being said, to say this last year has been challenging for some of us is an understatement. It’s ok to grieve, to feel angry, anxious or sad. When we’re ready we can make a decision to find joy, but we don’t have to force ourselves or feel guilty if the only thing we can manage today is to brush our teeth. Have a nosey at our blog ‘Toxic positivity! What is it?’ for more about this.
2nd - Get into the senses
This is what some people would call this mindfulness. If that word puts you off - go and read ‘Is mindfulness a load of codswallop?’.
But really, it’s just about bringing awareness into whatever we happen to be doing whether it’s walking the dog or washing the pots. We have 5 senses and often we can be so focused on what we see that we forget about the other ones.
My partner has posh bamboo socks (they’re mostly not smelly). I secretly wear them sometimes, and it’s like slipping on a sock made of silk. Ahh, it’s such a lovely feeling. Do you have a favourite smell? Or a perfume or aftershave that brings back happy memories? What about food? Ever paid attention to the taste, smell, or texture of food when chomping away? Are we zoning out watching TV and then getting to the end of the meal and wondering where it went? What music lights us up? What are our favourite things to do?
Think about what brings you pleasure. And if you’re not sure, do some experimenting. Foot rub anyone?
My 3rd and final tip - focus on the good
My nan used to say this to me all the time, “count your blessings!”, and whilst it was usually aimed at getting me to eat all my veg (the woman was formidable), she did have a very good point.
Martina Ratto, Cognitive Scientist, says that
“our brains tend to latch on to difficult memories and let go of the good ones.”
Research confirms that the more positive memories we have, the more positive our outlook on life and the world around us. We can help our brains collect and keep more good memories by taking time to savor our small enjoyable experiences and emotions from each day.
Some people like to keep a journal and write down all the things they’re grateful for from their day. If you’d rather a poke in the eye than put pen to paper then fret not, just consciously thinking about all the good things in our day or week helps us spot (and bank memories of) joy.
Finally: Life is made up of lots of small moments. Whether it’s singing, the smell of clean laundry, peeling an orange in one go, freshly brewed coffee, watching the sunrise, cuddling our pets, the perfect shave, popping bubble wrap, raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens – let’s remember that joy comes in sips, not gulps.