We’re often told that we need rare, unique, and expensive things and experiences to feel more fulfilled. Our culture glorifies fame over authenticity and large-scale achievements over pursuing personal passions and goals.
Expensive holidays, big celebrations, and exotic travels can bring you joy, but they aren’t the predictors of happiness marketers make them out to be. The comfort and pleasure often lie in the exact opposite direction. Let’s see why small pleasures matter for a fulfilling and authentic life.
The Ordinary, Available, and Familiar
It’s a befuddling but well-documented scientific fact that happiness rarely correlates with more money. It’s confusing because we tend to prize exotic and expensive pleasures over life's ordinary and familiar joys. For example, if you see someone’s Instagram photo from a vacation in the Bahamas, you may assume that they had a better time and enjoyed it more than someone who went to the nearby countryside. A birthday celebrated in an expensive restaurant, with cake, fireworks, and champagne is assumed to be more fun than a birthday spent at the home dinner table in a calm atmosphere with only the closest friends. A glamorous weekend night out sounds like much more of a peak experience than smelling the flowers or feeling the afternoon breeze during an afternoon walk.
However, the science of happiness tells a different story. Experts came up with several reasons to explain why small pleasures in life are more effective at making us feel happier and more grounded than extravagant purchases and experiences.
First, as social beings, we are sustained by meaningful interactions with those we love and respect. Kindness towards others and ourselves give us more joy than material possessions and large-scale experiences.
Secondly, we know that the high-end pleasures are vulnerable to emotional burdens, interpersonal conflicts, and low moods beneath their glossy exterior. Due to hedonic adaptation, they’re also less sustainable long-term when it comes to building an overall happier outlook on life.
Hedonic adaptation means that our initial joy fades as we get used to a situation, no matter how much we enjoy an experience or accomplishment at first. Buying your dream car can make you happy for a while, but you’ll soon stop driving for fun as hedonic adaptation takes its toll, and your enjoyment levels are back to baseline. The same goes for exotic trips and fun parties: the more you have these experiences, the less you’ll enjoy them in the future, especially if you don’t take steps to change things up and introduce more variety. That soon becomes an unsustainable effort with rare and expensive experiences.
Experts in happiness studies emphasize the value of small pleasures over big, expensive purchases. It may go against common sense, but the costly intercontinental plane tickets and fancy resorts aren’t the measures of happiness and joy. Those are just additions.
We can experience the pure joy of living through small pleasures. So, let’s see what they’re all about.
Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice
What makes a local countryside trip a better option than a trip to Maldives? Well, traveling more locally will be available to every one of your dear people, while sharing international travel will be limited to those who can afford it. Thus, the sugar of the pleasure is sharing, and being with the ones you love the most. Be it an expensive hotel and beach resort or the lake 50 km away from home, who you spend your time with is more important than where.
Furthermore, if you choose to take selfies for Instagram throughout the entire dinner in a nice restaurant and spend no meaningful time with the people you are with, the whole experience will feel quite empty. So the quality time is the spice money can’t buy.
Quality time and pleasurable experiences don’t have to involve other people. However, indulging in shopping in expensive boutiques is a poor alternative to practicing meaningful self-love, and the shopping high is quite transient. It can induce feelings of guilt and anxiety, whereas small pleasures calm you and wash away your stress.
Overall, experiencing pleasure helps us trust our own responses and follow what feels good for us. Pursuing small pleasures is about setting ourselves free from external dictates and reconnecting with our inner compass.
And last but not least, small pleasures increase our productivity and help us pursue our goals, giving us a mood boost to power through life's challenges.
What comes as a surprise is that achieving something so profound doesn’t require much effort. On the contrary: it is right there in the small pleasures; you just have to notice it.
What Are the Small Pleasures?
Simple, small pleasures are what give us the power to restore feelings of happiness and positivity. They help us be energized and productive and give us perspective in the most challenging times.
Small pleasures are the little joys that add up to create a life well-lived.
Examples of small joys are many.
The juiciness of the first fig of the summer. The warmth and smell of the early morning coffee. The beauty of sun rays breaking through the tree branches. The marvelous blue color of the sea.The smell of roses in the nearby park. A cozy evening with friends in nature. Watching the sunset and catching the golden hour magic. Writing or receiving an honest thank you card. Spending meaningful quality time with your loved ones. Engaging in self-care rituals. Cooking a meal from scratch with love. Dancing. Jogging in light rain. Walking barefoot on freshly cut grass. Listening to birdsong in the dusk. The refreshing feeling after an evening dip. The lightness of a linen shirt on your skin. The sweet smell of cut peaches. The tender hug.
Truly, there is no end to small pleasures you can discover and experience for yourself. They’re not only easily accessible but also quite sustainable long-term, as you can mix them up to prevent hedonic adaptation from setting in.
It seems that ordinary, available, and already familiar experiences have the strongest capacity to bring pleasure to our lives. Small things are available and well-known to everyone, they are easy to share, and we already have an emotional connection because they are usually familiar.
There’s nothing ordinary and small about life’s small pleasures. Small pleasures allow us to feel comfortable in our skin and help us feel grounded and joyful in our daily lives. They are within reach for everyone, regardless of social status or wealth. We can create an authentic and colorful tapestry of experiences once we learn to recognize and appreciate them. Furthermore, simple pleasures are essential for making progress in our goals, as they help us destress and feel more positive in our daily lives.