How to not feel like a failure most of the time and start appreciating the small things

Despite my best of intentions and loads of enthusiasm I only just managed to finish Chris Hadfield’s book last week. I’ve had a lot of people ask for my opinion, which I think is sweet because, let’s be honest – it’s not like I’m going to tell them not to get it. I’m pretty heavily biased.

Even if I wasn’t biased though, it was still a really great read. I have so much more respect for what astronauts go through and the work of our space programs now. Not only that but I learned a lot about Chris, life, space and what it takes to get there. I feel more enriched having read it, and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased.

Originally I had intended to write a review, but it took me so long to finish that I hardly know where I’d begin or if I’d be able to do it and my thoughts about it any justice. Near the end though, there was a passage that stood out to me and I thought that I could at least write about that.

If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time. Personally, I’d rather feel good most of the time, so to me everything counts: the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers and also the ones that no one knows about but me. The challenge is avoiding being derailed by the big, shiny moments that turn other people’s heads. You have to figure out for yourself how to enjoy and celebrate them, and then move on.”
– Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Is that true or what?

That first line alone resonated with me so much. I mean, who doesn’t know the feeling of working themselves up to some big accomplishment only to feel listless and directionless when the glory of the moment has come to pass? It’s like the disappointment I used to feel on the day after Christmas as a kid or the lull that accompanies the return to real life after a big trip or vacation you spent ages planning. The higher the high, the lower everything else seems to feel.

I’m sure a lot of people can probably relate to this feeling but I especially think it’s an especially  prevalent experience among my peers.

I hear about it all the time: The Gen Y’er who has graduated only to find that finding that dream job is a lot tougher than she was lead to believe. Or a friend who has found himself tightly following the path to a perfect adult life only to still find himself underwhelmed by the result. We’ve been raised to aim high and shoot for the moon for so long that even landing among the stars doesn’t feel nearly as wonderful as it should.

Just the other day I watched a Vlogbrother’s video in which Hank Green discussed something known as “loss aversion“, which is a theory about how most humans experience a bad thing to be twice as bad as any good thing is good. I think this is also something a lot of us can relate to.

I think that between loss aversion and our general fixation on placing the highest sense of accomplishment on our shiniest moments means that most of us just don’t really know how to appreciate the little things. If loss aversion means that we need twice as many good things to happen in order to make up for every one bad thing, and if everything other than our highest highs seems all but worthless, then those daily moments of fleeting good really have their work cut out for them!

This all leads me to think that if we could all just learn to appreciate the little good things more, then we’d all probably like our lives a lot more than we currently do. (And if you already really like your life, imagine being even happier! Hooray!)

A big part of my Brave New Year resolution for 2014 comes down to changing my attitude about the things I either can’t change or am not willing to change. Over the last month or so I’ve had an awful lot of loved ones come out of the woodwork to let me know that I worry to much. This was something I always knew about myself but I didn’t realize just how obvious it was to everyone else, or that it was impacting them so much. I also had a couple of long hard conversations about my stubbornness regarding some things in my life that don’t necessarily bring me joy. The ah-ha moment came during one such conversation with a particular loved one who is a big fan of the  tough-love approach.

Friend: If it’s making you this unhappy then why don’t you stop?

Me: I can’t, at least not right now. I need to stick it out a bit longer.

Friend: Well if you’re dead set on sticking it out then you need to change your attitude about it otherwise you’re just going to end up hating your life.

[Disclaimer: No, it’s NOT my job. When I count my blessings, my awesome job is among the first things I think of.]

And that’s just it, isn’t it? At the end of the day, we can’t just walk away from every little thing that makes us unhappy, regardless of what every motivational poster or uber positive life coach wants us to think. And so, we can either choose to stay unhappy or we can change our attitudes until we can find a way to make things better.

I think the same goes for finding real joy in the small things and appreciating life when it’s maintaining the status quo as well as when it’s shining at its brightest.

So, what tips or advice do you have for appreciating the little things? How do you change your attitude when it’s in need of adjusting? Share your ideas and stories in the comments!

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4 Comments

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  • Aaron
    January 10, 2014 - 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I loved this post Sarah – thank you for sharing. It’s such a true, but difficult part of life.

    So much of it for me comes from wanting to do great things all the time – I set a very high standard for myself and want to live up to it as much as I can. Usually, that’s a good, healthy productive thing. But sometimes it can get the best of me and it’s easy to lose perspective.

    My solution? I got my first tattoo at age 42. I didn’t try to hide it – I put it on my left forearm. One word – Blessed. I’m not a particularly religious person but for me it’s a reminder that I have so many things in my life to be thankful for and to remember to take the time to do just that.

    I find gratitude to be such a strong feeling. Reminding myself to be grateful for the good always puts perspective on the negative.

    • Sara Hamil
      January 13, 2014 - 9:28 am | Permalink

      I really understand wanting to do great things all the time. I’m like that too and it makes the downtime pretty tough to take because it’s such a natural part of life. You also make a great point about gratitude – it’s a powerful thing and something we should all try more often!

      P.S, Congrats on your first tattoo! Careful, they’re addicting ;)

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