The surprising power of simple pleasures

happiness mindset simplicity

Happy Monday! I hope you had a terrific weekend!

It’s hard to believe that summer is basically over. Many of you with school-age kids have already taken your “first day of the new school year” pictures and put your kids on the bus for their first day of school.

Here in Minnesota, we start school after Labor Day, so we have two more precious weeks of summer left. I plan to savor them as much as possible before we head into the steady slide into Minnesota winter.

Today happens to be my dad’s birthday - August 21. Each year on this day, I can’t help but think about what I’ve learned from my dad who lives in the small town I grew up in.

One of the many things I learned from my father was to appreciate and enjoy the simple things. 

Just as I’m planning to savor the last couple of weeks of summer, there are so many simple things we can celebrate and enjoy that don’t cost oodles of money, require lots of work and planning, or max out the credit cards.

Instead, we have the opportunity to enjoy so many small, sweet, simple things each day.

But for many of us, we are so caught up in the busyness of our lives that we miss these beautiful chances to enjoy simple pleasures. We also get caught in the world of “more” and “bigger” and “faster.” I’ve often noticed in our profession that we are always trying to “one up” each other and that our perspective of “enough” gets pretty skewed.

This is terrible for our overall well-being. As Lawrence Krieger said in “The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress”: “It is practically a ‘given’ that great success--top grades, high salary, or a prestigious job represent the fast track to happiness. This pervasive belief is false.”

Back in 1898, Theodore Roosevelt wrote these words to a friend: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” From the first days of law school, we are forced to compare ourselves against each other as we fight for the highest grades on a forced curve. 

We compare our hours. We compare our clients. We think that making more money equals being more valuable and more worthy - not just in our organizations but even more broadly. 

And along the way we start chasing things purely for the sake of chasing - money, status, accolades, etc. It feels like everyone else is chasing those things, so we should be chasing them, too. “More” feels better, like we are achieving something purely because it’s “more.”

What’s the impact of this constant chasing on our well-being?

When we are so busy chasing “more,” we underestimate the joy in “enough.”

We don’t stop to smell the proverbial flowers, savor the cup of good coffee, enjoy the sound of the wind in the trees. 

If it doesn’t cost inordinate amounts of time or money, we undervalue it. (Check out this article on “Why You Should Embrace Small Pleasures.”)

So many people tell me they wish they were happier, and many things contribute to that lack of happiness. But I often notice that they are rushing by little things each day that could bring them happiness.

If comparison is the thief of joy, I think “busyness” is, too. And that might be a reason that so many of us in the legal profession aren’t as happy or joyful as we want to be - too much comparison and not enough time. In fact, research has shown that, “goal progress can flourish in a life punctuated with frequent simple pleasures because they help offset daily irritations.” (Read more here: “There's Nothing Simple About Simple Pleasures” by Nicole Mead, Ph.D or here.)

Look for opportunities to resist comparing yourself to others - find happiness and joy in whatever is genuine to you, not what makes others happy or they seem to crave.

And carve out little windows of time to enjoy the simple things. The joy-bringers and day-makers that are right under your nose. What are yours?

A terrific song on the radio or a new episode of your favorite podcast.

A walk around the neighborhood on a beautiful morning or evening.

A chuckle at a joke or a social media meme.

A hug, high five, or fist pump.

A new food that delights you or the comfort of your favorite snack or home cooked meal.

The list goes on and on and on.

But in this world and this profession of comparison and hustle, I truly believe that finding joy in and gratitude for the small, simple things is one of the greatest things we can do for our well-being. Doing that will keep us grounded, content, and protected against the constant quest for “more” and “faster.”

Take a moment and think of something sweet and simple that brings you joy. Do this a few times each day and really pause and savor. I promise - the work will be there when you return from the moment of relish, but you’ll be in a better headspace.

Let me know what your simple pleasures are - and if you don’t have any, I encourage you to starting noticing the simple pleasures around you.  

When you can savor the simple things, you become more observant of all of the amazing people, things, and opportunities around you all the time. 

Wishing you so much joy - in the little things.