A recipe for happiness: sweat the small stuff

When people say don’t sweat the small stuff, they mean don’t get all upset over little things that don’t really matter in the long run. That is certainly good advice, but I would add to it that some small stuff can make you really really happy. Sometimes, when you least expect it . . .


I changed the ringtone on my iPhone last week. I’ve had the same one for over a year, ever since I got this phone. The ringer I had all this time was “Old Phone” — you know, the one that sounds like these. A charmingly ironic statement about modern technology, right? My kids kept bugging me to change it — I have a 1,001 ringtones app on my phone that they adore — but I was way too in love with the charming irony to even consider changing it.

But, I dunno why, just on a whim I guess, last week I finally changed it. I picked one of the 1,001 off the app. It’s called “Jive” and it fades in with a funky bass line, gradually builds in funk and intensity as more instruments come in, and then fades out again. No irony there, but as soon as you hear that bass line fade in, you just want to dance!

And I realized something. Despite the charming irony, Old Phone was setting off my startle reflex every time I heard it. I have a pretty extreme reflex — just ask my kids who think it’s hilarious — and that meant that every time I answered my phone, my heart was pounding and I was experiencing that fight or flight thing. Whereas now, when my ringer fades in (no startle there) and starts my head boppin’ and my toes tappin’? Now when I answer my phone I always have a big grin on my face even when it’s my evil coworker on the other end.


I went to a very small college in a very small town. Among other things it meant that everyone bought their umbrellas from the same store, and they were all plain black. So they were communal. On rainy days you’d go into the cafeteria, leave your umbrella in the lobby with all the other identical ones, and when you came out you’d just grab one, any one. After a while I decided to be rebellious so I went into the big city and bought me an electric blue umbrella with big white polka dots all over it. My sole purpose was to differentiate mine from all the plain black ones.

But guess what? Every time I opened that umbrella I would giggle at the goofy polka dots. Didn’t matter how grey and drizzly the day, I always got a giggle out of that umbrella. And it’s hard to be annoyed about the weather when you’re giggling at your umbrella. Just sayin’.


Ok, this is the last one. I am not a girly girl, but once upon a time I used to wear makeup when I worked in a fancy office. And one of the things I used to do was look in the mirror and smile at myself in order to find my cheekbones so that I could, you know, apply the blush. And this is kinda embarrassing, but whenever I did that smile, I would actually feel happy. (Cf. a hilarious scene in a Patrick O’Brian where Stephen and another doctor wonder whether the expression of an emotion causes the actual emotion; they experiment by angrily insulting each other and then checking their pulses, ha ha ha ha!)

And speaking of mirrors, if you are feeling really down, i.e. crying, I recommend taking a look at yourself in the mirror. I can practically guarantee that the sight of your own red-faced weepy facial contortions will make you laugh. (Hat tip to my sister who discovered this when we were angst-y teenagers.)

What small stuff makes you happy?

Leave a comment


  1. OK, I’ll go for that. Fountain pens. Rabbits on the lawn. Goldfinches on the feeder. Mr. P. my son’s Siamese coming by my office for breakfast, Finding a five dollar bill in an old pair of pants. I think I’m easy.

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