Author Steve Gilbert, in an interview with Harvard Business Review (2011), claims that “when bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.” Conversely, when even hugely significant events happen in our lives, the euphoria rarely lasts for more than a couple of months. If that is true, then we need to refresh ourselves frequently and focus less on disappointments.
A friend of mine – a recently-married carpenter – and I were having a few drinks just before Christmas, when I asked him what he had purchased for his wife for Christmas. His response was that he had just built her a brand-new house (true), exactly the way she wanted (also true). Therefore, he would not have to buy her a present for several years, as the house had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The rest of us, married for a little to a lot longer, enjoyed this joke immensely, knowing how untrue this was.
A common old wives’ tale, perpetuated mostly by men, holds that a woman places as much value on a single rose given as a gift as on a diamond ring. This is a great philosophy for husbands and partners looking to be cheap with their gift giving, but has the odour of being substantially untrue. Yet, if Mr. Gilbert is right, it is small, frequent pleasures that uplift us, while monumental events are forgotten quickly.
There are lessons to be taken from this analysis. First, if we make the most of the little things in life, our feeling of wellbeing will be enhanced and sustained. And, consequently, since good health is associated with positive emotions, we improve our health by seeking the little things in life.
Second, if we remind ourselves of past successes and pleasures, the same way a pessimist might dwell on prior negative experiences, we are more likely to sustain our pleasurable feelings.
Doing, too, is more beneficial than thinking about doing or procrastinating, as the experience has more retention power than the anticipation. At the same time, facing problems head on avoids the stressful feelings when one habitually delays. And, once the problems have passed, we are more able to put them behind us and move on. That is, rise to he challenge, instead of fleeing from the threat.
Fourth, by developing the habit of mental “mini-vacations,” we are able to stimulate the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, which, in turn, reduces stress.
Of course, reason is critical in everything, and you are urged, strongly, to not try to substitute a popcorn box ring for a quality engagement ring, or a plastic rose as a 25th wedding anniversary gift for your loved one. While “big deals” often are forgotten or mitigated in months, such a blunder may have greater staying power than you can imagine!