Don't Sweat the Small Stuff:
The Happiness Moment

By Richard Carlson

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The traditional view of happiness is that it occurs during “special moments” such as birthday’s, weddings, promotions, anniversaries, and so forth. And while these are occasions to celebrate, I would argue that a happy person is one who learns to celebrate the small things in life. It’s the person who learns to look around in awe at the wonder of the world who is truly blessed. 

I have a dear friend who recently found out that one of her children has breast cancer. Most of us can only imagine the highs and lows she has been living through. She was crying as she told me her story – how she was confronted with losing her daughter and best friend. Then she told me something quite remarkable and inspiring. One night as she drove home, she was in one of the worst moods she ever remembers being in. There was snow on the ground, and her car was slipping to the sides of the road. As she attempted to steer her car clear of harm, she noticed the full moon. It was so beautiful, almost mythical. She pulled over for a moment and watched the magic of nature doing its thing -- the snow in the trees and on the ground. And that huge, beautiful moon beaming down, provided all the necessary, natural light to see the peace in presence and a form of serenity found in a moment of danger.

Despite the real life crisis my friend was intimately involved in, she was experiencing a “happiness moment;” one of those moments that makes life worth living. That moment alone had the effect of taking my friend out of her head long enough to see the beauty and wonder of the world. What she told me was that, “while the moment didn’t last very long, it had the effect of deepening my perspective for the rest of the evening.” She realized that happiness moments are all around us, all the time -- only most of the time we fail to recognize or notice them.

The life practice is to notice more and more of these simple moments throughout the day. The act of doing so extends these moments and makes them seem more “normal.” When a person begins to recognize happiness moments, their “ordinary life” becomes much richer, happier, full of gratitude, and yes, even more “extraordinary.”  Recently I had an unexpected “happiness moment” of my own. Ironically, it occurred during an evening that looked like it was going to be one of the worst nights I had in a very long time. My younger daughter was loaded down with what seemed to both of us with a ridiculous amount of homework. By the time she returned from soccer practice, there it sat, waiting for her—a good four hours worth. After spending the bulk of her evening doing homework (she’s only 11 years old), she become (understandably) frustrated. But, instead of listening, as I should of, I launched into an inappropriate lecture. She stormed off, mad as can be, slammed her door and went to sleep, crying.  I felt terrible, like I had failed her that night. So I went into her room to comfort her the best I could and to apologize. And while she was already asleep, I simply put my arm around her and said I was sorry (which I really was). I told her how grateful I was to have her as a daughter and how proud I was to be her dad. For about a half an hour or so I held her before I fell asleep on the floor next to her bed.

Prior to falling asleep, I don’t think I remember having too many happier moments. Sure I blew it that evening—big time. But it led to something so much bigger and more important—a recognition of my deep appreciation of my daughter and her sister and how lucky I really was to be their dad. I lied there in almost total bliss, marveling in the magic of life before drifting off to sleep. It was an unexpected, but wonderful happiness moment. 

Happiness moments come in many different forms. They might be something as simple as paying attention to children laughing or pausing to watch a sunset. Or, it might be something like changing your perception of traffic---instead of dreading it so much---to valuing the privacy and quiet time alone, perhaps as a place to practice deep breathing. Happiness moments can be special conversations you have with your son or daughter, mom or dad, or a special friend. It can be a special moment in nature, looking a beautiful piece of art, or pausing after reading a wonderful paragraph in a favorite book. It can be anything that brings you joy. And the wonderful thing about happiness moments is that the more you start to notice them, the more they start to show up in your life—leading you to a more joyful existence.

Happy moments can also come about each time you do something nice for someone else—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant----picking up the trash in their yard, embracing a new student, lending a hand, volunteering, donating some money, or being friendly at the checkout stand.

Conversely, happiness moments can occur each time you avoid a negative act such as following a negative train of thought, blaming someone else for your unhappiness, spreading a rumor. You’ll notice, if you pay attention, that each time you avoid these (and hundreds of things like them) that you’ll feel a moment of joy. And as you pay attention to that joy, that feeling will grow. When our kids were little, we had a little ritual we did every night. We would go around the dinner table and ask one another, “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” What we were doing, without even knowing it, was training ourselves to look for the good in life. Sometimes it was a stretch to find something “good,” but I can’t remember a single night that any of us couldn’t think of at least something to say that was positive.

Life can be easy, at times, while other times, it can be nearly unbearable, and we can let the pain in life overtake us. But even in the midst of despair, there are moments, if noticed, that make life not only bearable and worth living, but truly magical.