How to appreciate the little things when everyone else is having big life moments


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Photo: Getty Images/JGIDaniel Grill

It feels like everyone I know is buying houses, getting married, going on vacation, and having babies. My life is pretty happy, but it is a nothing season for me, and so by comparison it can feel tough to enjoy the little things that definitely do fill me with joy. I dread talking weekend plans with my co-workers, because while everyone else gets to dish about their beach-weekend getaways and exotic honeymoon preparations and tacked-on trip to their friend’s destination wedding in Europe, I’ve got bupkes.

And don’t get me wrong—my musician boyfriend may not be whisking me away to Tuscany, but that doesn’t mean he’s not fantastic. He baked me two key lime pies and a plate of chocolate chip cookies last week just because. And when I’m not subjected to FOMO sustained from hearing about everyone else’s super-cool goings-on, it’s easy to enjoy the little things like this. Because even if all we have going on in our mutual social calendar right now is wide open spaces—and by that I mean zero plans, not a Dixie Chicks concert—we’re still able to make memories.

This reality extends to my life outside my relationship, too. For instance, this very morning, I sat in the park and genuinely relished my iced coffee and bagel with cream cheese and avocado. Other times, my Facebook feed is buried in streams of high-gloss wedding photos, and I sit there with avocado smeared on my face, feeling not great about it. Luckily, I was able to source some tips for learning to appreciate what do I have and being able to enjoy the little things, courtesy of clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD.

1. Take time to slow down to breathe

Regulating your breathing is the easiest way to ground you in the moment and relieve stress. I try to focus on longer and slower breaths whenever I’m in a big-deal meeting, otherwise I would hyperventilate and die. So Dr. Manly recommends you (and I) start there.

“The gift of our breath is one of the most overlooked—yet essential—aspects of life,” she says. “Simply breathing in and out for a minute or two can calm the nervous system and help us appreciate life itself.”

2. Strive to turn off the “comparative mind.”

“When we begin to compare ourselves or our lives to others or to the image others present, we can quickly lose our appreciation for what we have,” Dr. Manly says. “The illusion or actuality of what others might have can seem depressing or daunting if we focus on it rather than on the real beauty we have within our own lives.”

“If ‘the voice of toxic comparison’ begins to rear its head, ask it gently to go away and replace the toxic voice with a few words of self-appreciation.” —clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD

Just as hearing about the extravagant travels of my peers makes me feel bored and low because of my extreme lack of plans, same goes for when one of my baby-skinned friends starts complaining about a microscopic zit, and I, Acne Queen, tank into a well of nuclear sadness. “If ‘the voice of toxic comparison’ begins to rear its head, ask it gently to go away and replace the toxic voice with a few words of self-appreciation,” Dr. Manly says.

3. Make yourself a gratitude jar

The concept of a gratitude jar is a fun, visual twist on an old classic: “Put a clear glass jar or cup on the counter in plain sight,” Dr. Manly says. “Whenever a negative thought arises, think of a positive thought—whether it comes in the form of a poem, word, phrase, or image. Then write down the positive thought and place it in the jar.”

“You can add to the jar anytime you have a random positive thought or idea cross your mind or your path (e.g., reading a magazine and discovering an amazing quote). The bonus: When you’re feeling low or not-so-grateful, you now have a ready source of gratitude notes waiting to gas you up. All you need to do is select one or two to read—and your state of mind will often feel a wonderful boost.”

4. Take the time to be grateful for the little things in your daily world

That means actively acknowledging the big effort it took to make one little thing. For example, I sometimes only have time to grab an apple for a on-the-go breakfast. When this happens, Dr. Manly recommends that I eat it slowly, and appreciate all the work involved in creating the apple, from planting to growing and harvesting. The “slow approach” allows us to be grateful for things we take for granted. And it’s easy to take things for granted, especially for basic things like the food we eat to the air we breathe.

“We had horrible wildfires in our area in 2017 and evacuated from our home for nine days,” says Dr. Manly. “The fire missed us by about a mile. However, the air was so thick with smoke that many people suffered horribly. After that event, I now value every day of clear air and strive to appreciate every breath I take. Perspective changes everything.”

5. Gratitude rituals

Whether you’re religious or spiritual or not, Dr. Manly recommends creating a gratitude ritual or mantra for getting in a good mind-set for positivity and being able to enjoy the little things.

One mantra she particularly likes goes as follows: “May I ever be filled with gratitude. May I ever be filled with love. May I never take for granted a shared smile or a warm embrace. May I strive to give more than I receive. May I remember to focus on all that I have rather than what is not before me. May I live my days bathed in grateful love.”

And may I appreciate my key lime pies, cookies, and bagel with cream cheese and avocado.

In only five weeks, this online course can help you on your quest to happiness and reduced stress. And learn how a joyful memory palace can help you cope with sadness.

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