“Why We Can’t Wait Around for That Big Happy Moment” originally appeared on Shine, a free daily text to help you thrive.
“Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness” – Pearl S. Buck
It was a chilly evening in my cramped Brooklyn apartment, so I lit a candle and rolled out a yoga mat. I got into Child’s Pose, and, out of nowhere, I started crying. It wasn’t just a few tears I could dab away with my shirtsleeve—it was a snot-induced, ugly cry. I asked myself, “Why do I feel so unhappy?”
I think about happiness a lot, and I often wonder if I think about the emotion more than I actually feel it. On my tear-stained yoga mat, I realized that I hold out for happiness. Maybe I’ll feel it momentarily, but it’s fleeting. I’m always thinking of the bigger picture and waiting to be happy.
“I’ll feel happy when I land my dream job.”
“I’ll feel happy when I land my dream job, but what if that never happens?”
“I got the job, but why didn’t I feel happy?”
As I came out of Child’s Pose, I sat and stared into the flickering candle flame. My cat glared at me as I wiped away my salty tears. In that moment, I recognized that I had made happiness my end goal, but I didn’t bother to make it a daily goal. I was so focused on my big happiness goals that I was missing out on the little things that can make me happy right here, right now—no wait required.
To feel happy is to feel joy, delighted, pleased, or content. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is in the Declaration of Independence, so everyone is entitled to be happy, right? But is everyone happy?
It all depends on how you define happiness. You can see it as achieving your goals or reaching your dreams—something you’ve been working at for a while, like buying your first house or starting a non-profit. You can also see happiness as all the little things in life, like the look on your dog’s face when you come home or when you won’t be charged extra for guacamole.
“It has been a long axiom of mine that the little things are indefinitely the most important.” – Arthur Conan Doyle
Studies show that happy people cherish the little things in life, whether they’re tangible objects or memorable moments. When we take the time to appreciate smaller joys, it helps us realize what we’re grateful for right now and it brings happiness into the present. And when we really savor these little moments, it can increase our happiness levels, too.
How to Find Happiness Today
So, how can you start to find happiness every day rather than hold out for it? Here are three tips:
1. What Makes You Happy?
After my yoga-and-cry session, I started writing a list of things that make me happy right now. It’s not a list of things that will make me happy, it’s a list of things that do make me happy.
The more I looked at the list, the more I realized I could be so much happier on a daily basis by intentionally doing what makes me happy, whether it’s buying my favorite pint of ice cream or simply taking a walk and enjoying nature.
Try making your own version of this list and stick it on your wall, or type it into a note on your phone. You can turn to it whenever you need a mood boost ASAP. You can even make it a goal to check off one thing on that list each day to cultivate happiness.
2. Gratitude Is the Attitude
If figuring out what makes you happy is difficult, ask, “What am I grateful for?” Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter the most and the things we often don’t notice.
Someone once told me they write down three things they’re grateful for before they go to bed. I started doing this whenever I’d remember, and now it’s become a part of my routine.
Try getting into a similar habit of recapping what you’re thankful for. It can range from a roof over your head to a reliable bike that gets you to work, or even that cool bodega cat that lets you pet her. The more you think about what you’re grateful and thankful for, the more you’ll see the things that give you joy each day.
3. You Do You
Don’t put your happiness in someone else’s hands. If you’re always waiting on people to cheer you up and they never pull through, stop waiting.
You are in charge of your happiness—use one of the tips above to learn what makes you happy, and then take action. It may sound difficult, but it gets easier the more you try. I know it has for me.
After my tearful yoga session, I took a closer look at what would make me happy today—not down the road. I remembered a photo project I found online called The Confetti Project. It’s a photo series to showcase what humans celebrate, created by Brooklyn-based photographer Jelena Aleksich.
You are in charge of your happiness.
I’ve always loved pretending to be a model and having friends take photos of my outfits, and I realized I really wanted to be a part of this project. So I went for it—I booked an appointment for a photo shoot with this photographer, knowing nothing beyond the fact that I’d get to throw confetti in my photo.
I sat down and had a heart-to-heart with Jelena before she took out her camera. She asked me what I wanted to celebrate, and the answer came to me instantly: happiness. We talked about happiness, what it means to me, and why I was there in her photo studio.
Then, I got to dig into her jars and buckets of confetti. I grabbed handfuls of rainbow-colored confetti and tossed it up in the air, forgetting all my worries from the day. I spun around in circles and danced around to loud music. In that moment, I felt happy.
I hadn’t felt happy in such a long time that I’d almost forgot what it felt like, that sensation when your chest is so full of joy. I needed that moment of release. I needed to let go of my negative thoughts and start to live again. I was going through the motions of life but wasn’t really enjoying it. I walked out of that cathartic photo shoot not only with some great photos for my Instagram, but with a new perspective.
It’s easy to forget the little things when we’re always thinking about the future. But the truth is, you can’t get to the finish line without traveling the whole path, through all the bumps in the road. I still have long-term goals to accomplish and dreams I want to chase, but now, I’m reminding myself on a daily basis how important it is to stop and smell the roses—or throw the confetti.