Small joys are what I’ve come to appreciate the most since my life shrunk with chronic illness and pain. Instead of constantly mourning the big things I’ve lost or can’t have, which is so easy to do, I’ve tried to appreciate the little things. We can find joy in the ordinary and peace among the chaos. It’s challenging but so worthwhile to try, whatever your health or situation. Here’s a look at what small joys are and how they can benefit our day to day life, symptom management and overall wellbeing.
What Are Small Joys?
Things, people, products, memories and experiences can all be small joys and simple pleasures, whether it’s a fleeting moment of joy or a long-lived good vibe.
Small joys can bring a smile to your face or goosebumps to your arms, warm your heart, lift your spirits, release tension, comfort you, make you feel brighter and lighter, make you laugh, bring you a sense of mindful contentment, allow you to feel inspired, or make you feel a zing of happiness.
They can be things you’ve sought out or scheduled to do. Or they could just be things you slow down to notice and appreciate in any given situation, those tiny things you may not typically even recognise.
Why Are Small Joys Important When Living With Chronic Illness, Pain or Disability?
Chronic illness, chronic pain or other disability can all have a way of shrinking our lives, reducing and restricting what we do, what we have and who we are. They can take a lot from us, things we may never quite stop mourning for. But this dystopian shrunken life syndrome is not totally irreparable and we can find our groove without necessarily drowning in that loss.
We never really lose who we are completely, and we can build on the person we’re becoming. We may lose relationships or employment, but we may grow stronger, more independent and more resourceful as a result of our experiences. We may lose hobbies and abilities, but we can grow new interests and learn new abilities.
That’s not to say it’s easy, and the picture is a complex one if you live with depression, anxiety, PTSD or other mental health issues. This is just about coming to terms with the situation we find ourselves in and trying to make the best of it, whatever we’re dealing with mentally and physically. It’s about a degree of acceptance. It’s about acknowledging that you still deserve to feel good, to laugh, to experience a dose of happiness.
Depending on where you are in your journey and how your life is affected, it may seem bizarre to think of having doses of happiness at all, but it is possible. Granted, we may end up trying to find joy in a mere piece of toast on a rainy afternoon, and we may need to adapt the hell out of what we’re doing in order to find something we can enjoy, but we can make it work. And it can make a difference to how you feel, your outlook and how you live your life.
But this post isn’t just reserved for those with chronic illness, mental illness, pain or other disability. Anyone can learn to appreciate the small things a little more, to slow down life, to build in regular simple pleasures into their daily lives. It’s perhaps all the more important in today’s world of ongoing pressure, high stress, constant connectivity and perpetual productivity.
How Can You Learn To Dig Small Joys?
How can we appreciate the small joys and let go of what’s holding us back from doing so if we can’t change our health or our situation? A change of perspective can be vital here. For instance:
- Focusing on the things you can do rather than the things you can’t
- Reframing how you view your condition(s)
- Reworking your definitions of joy, happiness, success and fulfilment
- Looking at your situation from another angle and getting a broader perspective on life in general
Related Reading : Focus On What You Can Do, Not What You Can’t
As the cheddar cheese-laden expression goes, ‘when one door closes, another door opens’. Ensuring you keep an open mind and allow yourself to welcome new ideas is helpful. We may need to consider different types of joys, or veer out of our comfort zone to find the experiences we need. Pay attention to the smallest of things in your daily life, including those more monotonous moments because they are what you make them. You could find enjoyment, amazement or humour in places you’ve never even acknowledged before.
The colour may bleed from our lives, but we can inject new vibrancy and start to feel sparks of joy again. It may not be anything like before we got sick, disabled, or started living with agonising pain. And it may not be like how you thought it could or should have been by this time in your life. But the new things you find, the small joys you embrace, are worth it and they’re better than nothing. In time, the value of this can grow and those small things can change our world and our wellbeing for the better.
What If You Struggle To Find & Enjoy Those Simple Pleasures?
If you’re finding yourself resistant or struggling to make the time or give yourself the permission to indulge in these small joys, then you might need to dig a little deeper. What’s weighing on you, what’s holding you back, what’s lying beneath that resistance? It may be that you feel resentful of having to settle for small joys when you’d hoped to pursue big dreams or “normal person” achievements, whatever that really means. It may be that you don’t feel worthy, and that guilt has its claws around you. Those are issues that I’ve found difficult to address, let alone remedy.
It can be a continual learning curve and it’s not easy. I still don’t know how to let myself feel worthy of taking time out and doing something ‘fun’ anymore, or even looking after myself properly without feeling guilty. It’s like a monumental shift occurred without me fully realising it at the time when my health went south and I lost my job. There’s a lot tied up in illness, stress, traumatic experiences, self-worth. If any of these deeper issues are interfering with your life and you’re struggling to wrangle with them, please speak to someone about them or ask your GP if you can be referred for professional support. Don’t underestimate the impact chronic conditions can have on mental health, nor the impact mental health can have on our resulting ability to live day to day.
You are worthy. You matter. Those are such simple principles we all should know and embrace for ourselves wholeheartedly, yet so many of us seemingly can’t. You deserve to be happy, to laugh, to smile, to feel safe and comforted. You don’t have to earn that.
The more positive feelings may be more fleeting if you live with depression, but regular short-term joys can add up. There shouldn’t be guilt or pressure here. You don’t always have to be productive. You don’t have to feel you can’t laugh because you’re sick and you worry about what others will think when they look at you and see someone who may look “fine”. This is your life to live. Nobody else’s. Forget the judgements or social pressures.
What Brings You Joy?
What makes you feel brighter, lighter, happier, more content, more comforted or inspired? Think bigger and smaller things. Long term and short term.
They say that things and ‘stuff’ can’t bring you happiness, but I would beg to differ to a degree. Simple joys that are more temporary and transitory in nature can still lift your spirits when you need or it help to keep you afloat day to day. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Ways To Introduce Simple Pleasures
Simple pleasures and small joys can be things, experiences, or a part of how you live. It can be all three. For instance –
- Appreciate the now of what’s around you & what you’re doing. Being mindful of where you are, what’s around you, what your senses are picking up. Take it all in. Notice the details and the things you likely wouldn’t have had the time or desire to appreciate before.
- When you need a pick-me-up, reach for something that makes you laugh, do something that brings you comfort, or go somewhere that lifts your spirits. Use the small joys on an as-and-when basis as tools for your wellbeing.
- Build simple pleasures into your daily routine as required, or perhaps flexibly pencil them into each day. This gives you something to look forward to and helps keep you on a more even keel. It’s also a great way to help managing pacing for chronic illness or pain by factoring small joys into some of the rest breaks.
Related Reading : 4 Things To Remember When Pacing For Chronic Illness, Fatigue or Pain
Small Joy Inspiration
There are so many things that you could consider to be a small joy. For small joys you seek out and simple pleasures you partake in, it can be useful to note your ideas down for any days you get stuck or unable to get out of a rut. Sometimes it helps to get inspiration elsewhere by way of listed ideas, so here are just a few very basic suggestions :
- Going through old photos and momentos
- Listening to your favourite music
- Singing in the shower
- Doing a ‘random act of kindness’
- Bagging a bargain in the shops or online
- Indulging in a hobby, like writing, crafting, drawing, collecting, gardening, etc
- Learning something new to expand your horizons
- Cute stickers
- Watching funny YouTube clips
- Looking after your skin, nails and hair
- Seeing that you’ve saved some money
- Going bowling, to the cinema, crazy golf, etc
- Watching an engrossing TV series or film
- A refreshing breeze through open windows
- Watching the sunrise/sunset
- Sending a card or giving a gift to a friend/loved one
- Your favourite comfort foods
- Entering (and hopefully winning) competition
- Get some alone time to empty your head or meditate
- Snuggling up with a blanket, warm drink, snack and a good book
- Exercise to release endorphins
- Wearing new shoes
- Eating ice-cream in the park
- Feeling snug indoors while a storm pelts with the windows with rain
- Taking photographs in nature
- Speaking to friends, including messaging online friends
- A warm bath for your aching muscles
- Crosswords, puzzles and other games
- Walking in crisp autumn leaves
- Putting on fresh clothes or using a towel that’s warm from the dryer
- People watching over a drink in a coffee shop
- Going to a gig or other live performance
- Spending time with a friend or loved one
- Dining al fresco
- Laughing at stand-up or a comedy show on TV
- Taking time out to simply think without distractions
- Seeing a loved one laugh
- Playing with a pet
- Scrolling cute animal photos on Instagram
Gratitude To Joy
Looking at what we’re thankful for can also bring us joy, while additionally helping to put things into perspective if we’re stressing the small stuff. We can be grateful for another day breathing and a roof over our head, or we can be grateful it didn’t rain today and the pizza didn’t burn in the oven. We can simply appreciate the moment we find ourselves in and any silver linings there are to our situation, even if we need to squint to find them.
There are many things to be thankful for, particularly those oft overlooked positives in what seems like an otherwise boring or difficult day.
A Few Of My Small Joys
I found this oddly difficult to put together, but here are just a few things I like and that make me smile.
- Spending time with my cat when he grants me permission to do so
- Chocolate. Any time, any where
- My mum laughing, or laughing at my mum when she says something ridiculous
- Succeeding at a crossword with minimal help (cheating) from Google
- Adorable golden retrievers on Instagram
- Discovering somewhere new, whether it’s a nearby town or a new coffee shop
- Converse & Dr Martens
- Sugar skull designs
- My mug collection; a different mug for each tea-drinking occasion
- Horror films, a little anime, Marvel, psychological thrillers
- Blanket, extra large cuppa tea and Netflix
- Cute stickers (even though I never know where to stick them after I’ve bought them)
- Finding good deals and freebies
- Maltesers and Lindt Lindor
- Shopping for, and then giving, someone I care about a card or gift
- Decluttering & spring cleaning for the sense of cathartic refreshment
- Propping up in bed with my legs out to alleviate the pain, taking my painkillers and putting on the heat pad when I get home from errands or an appointment
- Anything Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Tinkerbell, Moomins, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice In Wonderland
- Emailing online friends
- Having a chuckle with my mum while watching Gogglebox or stand up on TV
- Appreciating the items I love in my bedroom, including the little family of succulent giraffes, zebras and elephants I seem to be building
- Blogging, reading other blogs and being a part of the community
- Getting a Starbucks hot chocolate with endless chocolate sprinkles, then slowing eating the froth by spooning it off with the stirring stick
- American crime thriller novels (I’ve been a wannabe FBI agent since I was a toddler)
Celebrate Those Small Joys On Your Journey
Whatever you are dealing with, whatever your situation, your struggles or your goals, the small joys matter. Being more mindful of what’s around us in any given moment can be part of this, so we can learn to make the most of more situations and activities than we did before. Another part may be thinking about what makes you happy, even if only briefly. What makes you feel comforted, excited, inspired? Factor those things into your daily life more often where you can.
Use the small joys and celebrate them. Life can always get in the way and we can go through our days in a haze of stress, illness, frustration or worry. When we look back, life was just a mess of negativity and a rush from one thing to the next. That’s potentially a lot of regret and even more frustration. Yes, your situation may suck, and finding small joys isn’t always going to be doable. But every little helps, so if you can start to appreciate the goodness around you and enjoy simple pleasures that make you smile even infrequently, it’ll add up.
Noticing the brighter moments, laughing more often, learning to laugh at yourself, treating yourself occasionally (or regularly), and having things to look forward to can all make a positive difference to the fabric of our life, our sense of self and overall wellbeing.
Do you need to slow down more to appreciate the small joys? What simple pleasures make your days brighter?