Whilst extravagant things are interesting, we seem to have lost some of our ability to enjoy smaller, more simple things - and our happiness has suffered in the process. Read on for my defence of the simple things in life.
I've just taken a week off work for a trip to the seaside. It was hot, and crowded, but I barely noticed. Instead, I walked seven miles to a tiny pub where I drank freezing cold cider and listened to Shania Twain. I ate seaside chips, and got up at 5am to watch the sunrise, and my hair still smells like sun cream and brine. And I loved it all.
I had a conversation with the person I went on holiday with whilst we were walking down the beach, in which I explained how happy I was that I could enjoy the simple parts of our holiday. I know some people would be constantly comparing their trip to a different one, or feeling that it wasn't as good because it wasn't super expensive, and I have to wonder how those people ever find happiness. Maybe they don't, I don't know. But I do know that, as I've said before, constantly comparing what you do to what others do, or to a past version of yourself, is setting you up to fail. What I was surprised by was how happy I could be with a cone of chips and a sunrise (separately, of course!). There's something uniquely calming for me about being around water, the sea in particular, but I had forgotten how lovely it can be and was pleased that I could recapture the feeling of calm and quiet. I've spent the last year rushing about being busy, so it was nice to know that I can be still when I need to be.
I genuinely think that simple things are the key to happiness. Often, they're the only things we have, and their absence indicates that something is wildly wrong. I wouldn't think much of it if I couldn't afford a month in Saint-Tropez (because I've never been able to), but too low in mood to appreciate the sunset or sea breeze? That would tell me that there was something very wrong.
Finding pleasure in the simple things is very much an attitude, and is something that you can re-learn if you've forgotten how. Admittedly, it can be very difficult to take pleasure in simple things if you're struggling to keep a roof over your head, or going through a bereavement, but focusing relentlessly on the negatives if there's little you can do about them at that moment isn't going to help either.
So how are you going to make more time for the simple things in life?
Figure out what you like
Not everyone will enjoy the same things, or feel that the same simple things are for them. For example, the simple things that make me really happy are:
Focus your attention
The more you focus on comparing yourself to others, the more that exercise will demand from you. The more you focus on finding small, simple things to enjoy, the more that exercise will demand from you. Only one of those things is likely to make you feel happier, so I'd focus on that if I were you. If you deliberately target positive things with your attention, it can make you feel a little more positive - try writing things down at the end of the day that are positive, to train your brain to focus more on happy things rather than negatives.
Savour the moment
The next time something good happens, or you notice a small, simple thing - stop and enjoy it. Take a few seconds to really focus in on it and savour the moment. You might think something like, "if this isn't happiness, I don't know what is," to really hammer the point home to your brain. Also, make sure you're not trying to multi-task your way through it - put your phone down, stop watching the TV for a second, and really be present.
So there you have it - my defence of simple things, and a few ways to reclaim them. What simple things do you like? Let me know in the comments!
Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects