The key to unlocking a happier life

When thinking about our happiness, we tend to focus on big-picture questions. We look at our lives in their entirety, examining the broad strokes of our careers, friendships and romantic relationships. Will I get a major promotion at work, we ask ourselves? Should I move to a new city? Will I get married or might end up in divorce? Will my children transfer to university?

Obviously, these are all important issues. But over the past decade or so, an increasing number of happiness scholars have chosen to narrow their focus. They are now focusing instead on the “small wins” – the small moments of unexpected joy that are believed to make life worth living. Think about the compliments you got on your new look this morning; Or the free coffee I gave you at the hairdresser before a cut. Happiness scholars used to write off questions like this as unimportant “noise.” But now those “small gains” seem like the bread and butter of happiness itself.

British Airways executives clearly agree. The airline announced this week that it will bring back free food and drinks to passengers, as CEO Sean Doyle issued a liability memo over failures to serve customers during the pandemic. Free snacks on short-haul economy flights were abandoned six years ago as part of a cost-cutting operation that at the time was expected to save £400m each year. Now, British Airways passengers are once again entitled to a snack and a bottle of water (although they don’t get the sandwiches and hot and cold drinks that were previously on offer).

A lot of these small wins have been denied to us during the Covid lockdowns. There was no free coffee from our hairdresser; No chocolate on our pillow in a hotel; No glasses of wine on Friday evening at our friend’s house; Our children never came home and showed us a new picture they drew at school. Now, with society reopening and we’re out of Covid, it’s important once again to appreciate the little moments of joy.

From birth, humans have stuck to an appreciation for the little moments of incremental progress—small milestones that give us momentum, and help propel us toward a goal.

My book, Little Wins: The Powerful Power of Thinking Like a Toddler, looks at what adults can learn from the psychology of young children. We tend to think that adults represent the pinnacle of mental and physical development, and that young children are only in the waiting room, slowly developing the skills and maturity they need to live independently. But I think that only tells half the story. Young children are not just adult trainees, they are exceptional people in their own right, endowed with creativity, curiosity, determination, ambition and sociability.

In fact, it was a conversation with my four-year-old son, Patrick, around our kitchen table in 2005, that provided the inspiration for some key products sold by Ella’s Kitchen, the baby and baby food company she founded in 2006 (named after Ella’s Kitchen). after my daughter). Ella’s Kitchen subsequently grew into a market leader in the UK, expanding into 40 countries.

A particularly important aspect of a child’s psyche is his or her ability to appreciate the little moments of happiness. Any parent of a young child understands how easy it is to please their little one, by popping in their favorite TV cartoon character or by playing the same game of “Peek-a-boo” 25 times in a row.

Most importantly, young children can learn a lot from these little moments. Think of a three-year-old learning how to use a knife and fork. This process involves hundreds of small steps of progression. They first learn how to hold a knife and fork. Then they learn how to coordinate their hands to move the knife and fork synchronously. Then they learn how to put a fork in their mouth and bite off their food. Each teacher fills a young child with happiness and pride, urging them to the next step in their journey.

But as we get older, we tend to lose that skill. Our minds get clouded by the big questions about careers and relationships. Unfortunately, we tend to forget the importance of the happy little moments. When we try to learn something new as an adult, we don’t have the same sticking power as young children. We fail to enjoy the small moments of progress; As a result, we quickly become discouraged and find ourselves giving up.

It is well known that we are more likely to lose weight if we choose to celebrate our small accomplishments, for example. Maybe you’ll step on the scale and see that you’ve lost 2 pounds after a month of dieting and exercising. It probably won’t be enough to make any noticeable difference in your appearance, and you may still be classified as overweight medically. But psychologically, if you can learn to accept the small victory, it will make it very easy to continue your weight loss journey.

It’s the psychological equivalent of patting yourself on the back. In our modern, demanding and dynamic world, we often forget how to do it. He appears childish and arrogant. But we must do so.

It’s something I’ve suspected for years – and now there is a large body of scientific research supporting this theory. In recent years, for example, psychologists have become interested in the emotional power of “awe,” defined by psychologist Professor Dacher Keltner as “the feeling of having something greater and greater than oneself.” Think of a starry night in the countryside, or enjoying the sunset from the perfect angle.

And when it comes to friendships, a growing body of research now indicates that loose and ambiguous “knowledges” are more important than we realize. Think of the barista at your local coffee shop, whose face you recognize and whose name you almost remember. In 2014, Dr Gillian Sandstrom, a psychology lecturer at the University of Essex, asked volunteers to record their social interactions. It found that participants with large networks of “loose acquaintances” were generally happier, and that participants felt happier on the days when they recorded more informal interactions.

Over the weekend, I watched Spanish tennis legend Rafael Nadal take victory in the Australian Open final, winning his 21st Grand Slam title (a new men’s record). He’s an incredible player, with natural skill and ferocity. But he is also a man who has gone through 30 years of long hard training. To a stranger, training in the same sport day in and day out can seem boring and repetitive. But someone like Nadal is learning to savor the small moments of victory. He might hit a send 0.5 km/h faster than his personal average; Or he may know that he has reduced his body fat percentage by a small percentage. It’s a small step, but every time he appreciates the progress. This is how you become one of the most successful tennis players in the world.

Covid has taken so many of us, but it has also helped some of us appreciate the value of these little moments. During the initial shutdown of one exercise trip each day, many people have rediscovered the joys of nature in their local park or field. They’ve noticed blossoms on the trees, and they’ve noticed the changing seasons—often for the first time in years. As we get out of Covid, we need to learn to harness that feeling. Small moments can be hugely important.

As Luke Mintz said,


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