Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant, Speaker and Writer

How Small Pleasures Make a Big Difference

gerbera small pleasures
Last year, I was blocked.

At first, it was because I’d taken on too many things, and I needed to focus. I knew you’d be busy over the Summer, personal development at the back of your mind, so I thought I’d take a little break.

Then the Autumn came, and I had some ideas for writing, for posts, but none of them seemed grand enough. None of them seemed like they’d rock your world, change your life. None of them seemed like they’d be the ONE BIG THING that made a difference.

I half-wrote a dozen posts, a line here, a line there. My writing energy went into other places – I have another fiction book on the go, I spoke at a conference, and I’ve done PR and interviews for The Guardian newspaper and other publications. I’ve worked in Singapore, Bangkok, Indonesia and more, and been back to the UK. I ran writing workshops. I’m doing several courses to develop my own skills.

I lived my daily life, a faint sense of guilt and unease about why all the ideas I had for posts were about tiny changes.

Sometimes The Big Picture Isn’t The Right One To Look At

One day, I sat in a cafe and drank a latte, and I watched a shoal of koi carp move in a beautiful pond. I’d taken a break from writing my novel.

My coffee tasted strong and delicate. The sun shone, as the weather in Thailand was at its best – warm but not sweltering or humid, with blue skies and a gentle breeze. I was with two friends, and as none of us is very extroverted, we were all happy working in our own worlds, on our own projects, but being together.

This isn’t an unusual day in my life – coffee, MacBooks and friends could be the title of this chapter of my future-memoir.

There’s nothing grand about it. Days aren’t filled with wild adventures. Days are gentle, and sweet, and full of a host of small pleasures.

And that’s when I remembered.

That it’s the small things that make up our lives.

Each day is a series of tiny decisions. Tiny moments. Tiny interactions.

When they’re all put together, sure, then they can build themselves up into grand adventures, or long, drawn out and boring days.

But it’s not the whole thing we aim at.

The Power to Reinvent Life Anytime

The best thing about this is that it gives us the opportunity every moment, of every day, to reinvent things.

If a day is horrible – and I’ve had a few of those recently, too – we can choose a different response.

I had an emotional day a couple of weeks ago, where an argument in a relationship that was very important to me, combined with PMS, lack of sleep, poor food choices – and, let’s face it, some very uncool self-care – meant I cried. Now I never cry, and I’m a very steady temperament overall. But at this time on this day, I was upset.

I had plans with three good friends that evening. I considered cancelling, but decided in the end to give them the choice as to whether to hang out or not. They showed up – in all the ways – and instead of moping on my own, their company and presence distracted me, and I found by the time they’d gone, the worst of my mood had shifted.

Distraction isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, it’s to go deeper. I find morning pages, journalling, and self-reflection very powerful tools to choose a different response in the moment. Asking yourself why you are feeling this way, or employing a leaf from the Non-violent Communication model can be very helpful. Questions are always useful. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I feel this way?
  • What is the deeper need that is underpinning this emotion?
  • Why did this situation, with this person, at this time, trigger my emotions?

Build Your Own List

Sometimes, we can build a nice day out of nice moments. Having a list of the things that create different feelings inside you can also be very useful.

Why don’t you do this now? Make a list of several positive emotions that you like to feel. For example, for me, it could be free/comfortable/content/loved/achieving. Then write down all the ways or things which bring this feeling out of you. Or people. Perhaps talking to your mum makes you feel loved. Perhaps ticking things off your list makes you feel like you’re achieving. Perhaps travel, when no-one in the world knows where you are, makes you feel free.

The wonderful thing is, we are all so different, we can make our own completely unique lists. Every one of us can build a custom blueprint to create some of those tiny moments that build up into a better day.

What would your list include? What activity can you do in two minutes that will always give you a smile? If you had fifteen minutes, what might you do? If you had an hour?

Answer the questions below, and begin building your blueprint right now.

And remember, you don’t have to make a big impact. A huge splash.

Just as the saying goes, look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves, it really is true that if you take care of the individual moments, your life will take care of itself.

Ten Steps to a Tiny Pleasures Custom Blueprint

1. What five positive feelings do you most like to feel? (Here is a list of examples)
2. Put each feeling at the top of a page, and write a list of 10 things that create that feeling in you
3. What activity can you do in two minutes that makes your mood more positive?
4. What song helps you to feel each of those feelings?
5. What acts of self-care can you do to show that you love yourself?
6. What are you not doing for yourself at the moment that you know would make your mood better?
7. If you have a big goal, or a big ambition, what one small step can you take to move in that direction, right now?
8. What person always has a positive effect on you, even when you’re at your lowest?
9. What is your go-to distraction TV or movie?
10. What is the smallest act of self-care that you can do at this moment, with the resources and tools you have?

For Inspiration: A Few of My Small Pleasures (YMMV!)

A lie in
Skin to skin contact
The scent of a jasmine
The first taste of the darkest chocolate
Warm sand between my toes on a beach
A deep conversation with a friend
Wearing soft fabrics next to my skin
Connecting with someone emotionally
Waking up early and realising I have nothing scheduled
Laughing at a joke
A sip of freshly made coffee
Someone playing with my hair
A deep breath
Getting into a newly made bed
Watching a stream burble
A duvet day
Cuddles, all the cuddles.

Go Seek Out A Small Pleasure Now

If you’ve had a bad day; you’re feeling stuck; everything’s difficult, or life is tough, then start small. Make your list, and pick one to include in your day.

Build a life of contentment from these tiny fragments of happiness – in the end, they are the bricks that make up the whole.


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  • Debbie Hampton April 4, 2017, 4:17 pm

    Good for you for noticing the tiny pleasures and wonders in our life….and thank you so much for the reminder. I too have had to purposefully look for the good in my life lately with all that’s been going on. It really does help and makes a huge difference.

    PS: I’m impressed that you know a group of koi is called a shoal. I learned something new today! :)
    Debbie Hampton recently posted…The Top Five Regrets of the DyingMy Profile

    • Ellen April 9, 2017, 6:10 am

      I need the reminder as much as anyone – it’s such a good practice to really pay attention to the tiny measures, and I’m so glad that the post reminded you too!

  • Suzie Cheel April 5, 2017, 1:23 am

    I love this Ellen and as i was driving home today i thought of all the small things that I am grateful for and that had me smiling xxx
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…How To Make April Awesome and Abundant?My Profile

    • Ellen April 9, 2017, 6:09 am

      Ahh that’s wonderful Suzie, thanks for sharing!

  • Zeenat Merchant Syal April 9, 2017, 2:19 pm

    Ellen love these tiny pleasures…and skin to skin is wayyyy up there in my list of little big pleasures :)
    xoxo, Z~

    • Ellen April 10, 2017, 7:01 am

      <3 Zeenat!