I had one of “those” days a few days ago. It wasn’t one thing going wrong. It was several. The doorknob to the bedroom was broken. A foam cup full of diet soda had slipped from my hand, spilling all over a table. One of the dogs had just made a little “deposit” on the living room rug.
Nothing major wrong, no cause for alarm. But the total series of events was enough to frustrate me to the point of severe grouchiness. We’re talking Oscar from Sesame Street grouchy here, snapping at unsuspecting passersby such as my beloved wife, the dogs and the cats.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. It’s really not the big stuff in life that makes us crazy. It’s the steady parade of little minor irritations that add up that makes us snap.
Now I know this isn’t exactly a new insight. We’ve all seen the signs that say “don’t sweat the small stuff.” And the ones that add “… and it’s all small stuff.” But how often do we really think about it?
We’re fortunate that the vast majority of us don’t have to deal with major, life-changing potential catastrophes regularly. And when we do, most of us just deal with it — because we have no other choice.
Case in point: 2008. That was the year that I sincerely hope was the worst of my life. Between June and October, my mom died following a two-week hospital stay, my wife was hospitalized for weeks to undergo a life-threatening treatment for a life-threatening illness, and I was downsized from my job of nearly 10 years.
So yeah, 2008 really stunk. But while all of that was going on, did I give up and collapse in a puddle of self-pity? No. Did I want to? Yeah, at times I did. And that’s when I discovered the flip side of little things. It was the little pleasures that helped me cope with the big stuff going on all around me. I could enjoy 10 minutes with a really good cup of coffee. I could appreciate the happiness that our dog and cats could provide, even briefly, on a tough day. I could celebrate a sunrise, a summer shower, a sunset. I could take refuge for a few moments in a book or magazine article. Those little things kept me going, putting one foot in front of the other, doing what I had to do.
And there was plenty to do. Bills had to be paid, the house cleaned, the pets fed, watered, walked and taken to the vet. Life’s little pleasures helped me get those things done.
Fortunately, life has gotten better in the intervening years. Mom’s gone, but my wonderful wife recovered quite well. After a good bit of looking, I was fortunate to find a new job. At the moment, life is good. And the little things that were good four years ago are still good today.
Maybe we need a balance of major and minor events occasionally to help us keep things in perspective. Just remember, if the little things are getting you down, other little things can also lift you up.