Home Lifestyle How The Small Joys Become Big Things With Chronic Illness, Disability & Pain

How The Small Joys Become Big Things With Chronic Illness, Disability & Pain

by InvisiblyMe

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
A colourful background of a rainbow fence and multicolour tulips. Overlaid is text, with each letter a different colour, reading "focus on what you can do, not what you can't".

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 – 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  • Napping
  • 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
  • Sarcasm 
  • 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.

A black scroll divider.

Do you need to slow down more to appreciate the small joys? What simple pleasures make your days brighter?

Caz  ♥

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28 comments

James Viscosi August 4, 2022 - 4:28 pm

I remember when I was in the hospital after The Event, after over two weeks in either ICU or Telemetry where they wouldn’t let me get out of bed, I finally got transferred to Med-Surg, and there was a window, and I could look out the window and see trees and rain and stuff. I appreciated that just as much as any view on any trip I ever took …

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Darnell August 4, 2022 - 5:26 pm

It is amazing how small things can bring joy. A tech geek friend of mine was able to buy a product 3 days before it was released. He couldn’t wait to share the news with me in detail about how he was able to get it. His smile and happiness made me feel good too. Little things bring joy.

When younger I used to DJ for friends. I’m not a DJ anymore, but I realized I still enjoy music, so I take the time to play old and new favorites. By the way…chocolate anytime is on my list of favorites too. Thanks for the reminder Caz.

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BBYCGN August 4, 2022 - 5:44 pm

True blue! I absolutely feel ya.

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walkingoffthechessboard August 4, 2022 - 5:53 pm

Good things sometimes comes in small packages…small moments as well. We just have to be in the moment to fully appreciate them. Mindfulness is something I try to practice at all times.

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Sandee August 4, 2022 - 6:38 pm

You’re always so positive. That’s a good thing. Focus on all the good things around you and not on the negative. Bravo.

Have a fabulous day, Caz. Big hug. ♥

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Terri, Olive Tree Saints August 4, 2022 - 8:07 pm

This is such a fabulous post Caz! It’s so easy to look at all the things we’ve lost, but it’s such a blessing to be able to look at the things we still have, can still do, and find joy, as you said, in the small things. It’s funny – for your list of small joys, you listed your Mum laughing or you laughing at her when she says something ridiculous. That would probably be on my son’s list as well – only laughing at me, of course. He really gets a kick out of me doing silly stuff. He lives in another state, so I usually have to tell him about the ridiculous things I say or do… I could just pretend they never happened, but him laughing is one of my small joys.😊 You’ve known me for several years now, so you know how much I love animals….One of my small joys last week was that a deer dropped off her fawn just outside our back gate one evening (it’s common for them to leave them for awhile when they’re little) and came back to get him/her the next morning. When they were reunited, she gave him a good face-washing and off they went. It was so sweet! Hoping this day brings you many small joys sweet friend! Hugs!

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c.a. August 4, 2022 - 8:57 pm

Dear Caz, you are so close to the Kingdom of God in so many of your blogs. And you and your Mum remain in my daily prayers that The God Who Is will somehow reveal Himself to you in an unmistakable way.
We can never be dishonest with what we believe or don’t believe; He is the God of Truth, so I’m not suggesting you ever make up “faith,” but just praying that the Holy Spirit will somehow birth it in your heart.
❤️& 🙏, c.a.

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Deb August 4, 2022 - 9:12 pm

What an excellent post, and so well written. Deb 🧡

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Margaret McDaid August 4, 2022 - 9:23 pm

Hi Caz,
Hope you are ok.
This post quite affirming but I need to revisit to read it all.
Thanks for sharing and take care ❤️🙂

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Ellen Stockdale Wolfe August 4, 2022 - 10:13 pm

Very creative and helpful suggestions!! Thank you! 😊

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Carolyn Page August 4, 2022 - 9:38 pm

I hardly know what to say, Caz. After reading your incredible depth of understanding, compassion, and simple acceptance of life’s ups and downs, anything I offer could sound trite. So, I won’t try! Except to say: You have my undying admiration.
xoxoxo

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Ogden August 4, 2022 - 9:38 pm

Sarcasm! 😀 😀 xx

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Digital Empire August 4, 2022 - 9:38 pm

Hi Caz. I loved your post. I agree that it’s the simple things in life that makes us happy! I’m glad to see that your blog is back in working order, and I’m sure that you probabaly already know this, but you can find your blog back on the WordPress Reader system again! I just found out this morning. Lovin it. Have a wonderful day!

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Greg Dennison August 5, 2022 - 2:02 am

Yes. Well said. Thank you.

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The Oceanside Animals August 5, 2022 - 2:57 am

Charlee: “Can we just say that we really appreciate your acknowledging that you get to spend time with us when we choose to allow it.”
Chaplin: “Yes, that’s something humans don’t seem to understand sometimes. And on behalf of all cats everywhere, let me just say: You’re welcome, peasants.”
Charlee: “Shh, Chaplin, we’re not supposed to actually CALL them peasants.”
Chaplin: “Maybe not, but they know what they are.”

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Cindy Georgakas August 5, 2022 - 6:36 am

love this Cass!
💖

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Cindy Georgakas August 5, 2022 - 6:37 am

OMG there is a God.. My comment worked for the first time. I thought just try again and here we are. No clue what changed but so happy!
💖

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The Back Garden Naturalist August 5, 2022 - 10:45 am

Great post Caz! And love American crime novels too – to indulge in my favourite author, Michael Connelly is such a treat! That and any animal that visits the home & garden of course 🙂 xx

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Despite Pain August 5, 2022 - 11:51 am

Oh, those small joys make our days so much better, don’t they? I remember when my Mum and Dad celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary, my sisters and I made them a photobook. We titled it Fifty Golden Moments and wrote stories about fifty memories for them. It was the small things, the silly things, the things that made us all laugh. They both loved the book and even now, fourteen years later, I still take out that book and read those stories. Those memories help me on bad days. The big things are easy to find and remember, but really, the small things are probably the ones that make us smile more.

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Liz August 5, 2022 - 12:33 pm

Things that make my day brighter are chats with online friends whether its via blogs, Twitter or email.

Dvd’s which had been a big thing as you know.

Laughing at some videos or memes that have come up on Twitter.

My hamster, Daz, when he says hello.

Being in nature when I can. I would like to add sunrise or sunset to the list, but I haven’t seen either.

I hope to enjoy strawberries in my garden later, when they are ready.

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Rachel August 5, 2022 - 7:28 pm

Absolutely cats and chocolate!
Also, it’s heavenly for me when I get a bit of peace and quiet.
This is a really important post to remind us to enjoy life as much as we can.

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Michele Anderson August 6, 2022 - 1:28 am

Beautiful and helpful post, Caz.

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Smelly Socks and Garden Peas August 6, 2022 - 8:21 pm

Ah each of your blog posts brings me some joy. They’re always so thoughtful, thought provoking and relevant even to people in a different situation. Hugs always xxx

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Cheryl, Gulf Coast Poet August 7, 2022 - 2:16 am

A wonderful resource, Caz, and good advice for anyone! <3 Have a great week!

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Ellie Thompson August 7, 2022 - 4:32 pm

This is a lovely post, Caz. It’s full of brilliant ideas and optimism even though you have so much to battle with. It was an absolute joy to read.

I agree that gratitude is essential; with it, even the little things around us become something to be grateful for. I love that you laugh with your mum. I used to have so many laughs when my mum was alive. It doesn’t make me sad; it just makes me truly grateful that we had these wonderful times together. Also, my cat, Peanut, makes me very happy even when she’s driving me up the wall! Curling up in bed with her next to (or sometimes, on top of) me is a lovely experience, and I sleep much better when she’s with me. My four young grandchildren make me very happy, too, even when they’re squabbling and up to mischief. I think we might have spoken previously about keeping a gratitude diary. It’s a great way to remember what is important in life and to us. I do this every morning and never cease to be amazed at how much more positive I feel after making these notes.

Thanks again for a truly delightful post. I hope you are as okay as you can be. Take good care of yourself, Caz. Love Ellie xxx 🤗

Like you, I make the very best of my life as a person with a disability. It doesn’t make me envious of other people who perhaps, aren’t struggling with disability or pain. Again, it’s not always a ‘walk in the park’, but I’m just so grateful for what I do have in this life.

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Ellie Thompson August 7, 2022 - 4:34 pm

Sorry, Caz. That last paragraph of mine was meant to be in the middle of my comment. No idea how it got to the end like that! Very strange. Oh, well, something else to giggle about. Xxx

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Sarah Warburton August 8, 2022 - 3:40 pm

Oh Caz, this post has made me smile so much, it’s fabulous, thank you 🙂
I especially loved this:
“My mug collection; a different mug for each tea-drinking occasion”
I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that I’m not the only person in the world who has mugs for each drinking occasion – my husband maintains I’m weird for having mugs for morning vs evening drinking, coffee vs herbal teas, bad days etc – but it genuinely brings me joy to have a collection suited to each beverage opportunity and I am so glad it does for you too 😀
Best Wishes
Sarah xx

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George Rector August 9, 2022 - 1:00 am

You love American mysteries; I love British mysteries. American mysteries and cozy mysteries, too. Have you read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series? They are old but good whodunnits. Also very old are Mary Roberts Rinehart. Agatha Christie said Rinehart’s The Yellow Room was the best mystery ever written. Twists and turns to the end!

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