The Small Things Matter: Happiness

The Small Things Matter logo in the shape of two sprouting leaves




It’s a loaded word, isn’t it? I wonder, what does it make you think of?

For some, happiness might hold the form of a memory past or be attached to something material and tangible, perhaps the concept is full of expectation and hope, driving your dreams and desires. Happiness is one of the most subjective, ethereal and uncontainable emotions’, but it’s exhilarating and mood changing nature draw a common thread between us and this deeply desirable human experience. Whatever happiness means to you, it has the ammunition to throw us into a flurry of feelings that actually result in an unhelpful pressure to be happy.

So first things first, the pressure’s off! This is not an article with any shortcuts or guarantees to a happier life, were there to be any they would, in fact, take captive their own aims.

Researcher Lahnna Catalino, ‘A better way to pursue happiness’ describes:

“People who strive to feel good every possible moment, as if it were possible to will oneself to be happy, appear to be following a recipe for unhappiness”.

We can’t control the comings and goings of happiness. Many of us make happiness our main goal in life, but this is not best placed. Our wellbeing and personal growth is about much more than happiness alone.

For our relationship with happiness to be a healthy one, we need to set realistic expectations and pursue more trustworthy goals that will help us grow healthy balanced lives. Experts say that experiencing a sense of security, purpose, and meaning in our lives leave us more fulfilled and promote better mental wellbeing. So how do we get there?

We work on our inner lives. We can cultivate our lives to be a place for good, reliable things to grow in us; love, joy, and peace are examples of key things that will take us the long distance and might too, lead to more happiness.


CULTIVATE GRATITUDEA dictionary definition of 'cultivate'

It can be easy to miss the small things, and even become over-familiar with good stuff. A gratitude journal is a great way to harness thankfulness more in your life and boost a positive outlook. Greater Good in Action provides activities and exercises to help you implement gratitude and they give you evidence of why it works!

In a study conducted from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. 2003) they found participants who kept a gratitude journal weekly for 10 weeks or daily for two weeks experienced more gratitude, positive moods, optimism about the future, and better sleep.



Scheduling small tasks that bring us joy and making plans to look forward to all fill up our emotional tank. Find what sparks joy for you in the mundane day-to-day!

 The reality of life though, is that it can send the unexpected our way and challenge how we experience and view our world. We can’t avoid negative experiences, rather evidence suggests that these are actually an important component for our happiness.

Researchers William A. Cunningham and Tabitha Kirkland, in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 9, Issue 6, 1 June 2014, suggests:

“Happier people are not necessarily naïve or blind to negativity, but rather may respond adaptively to the world, recognising both good and bad things in life”.

We can embrace challenges and difficulties more readily, knowing that they can provide valuable information on things we need to change, the motivation that will help us, and though uncomfortable, are necessary for our growth.

Increasing our ability to adapt and develop resilience can prepare us to better deal with the highs and lows as they come.



Humans are made for connection. Connecting with our inner person and others in a meaningful way provide us with many health and wellbeing benefits.

Self:  It’s important to have times of focus on our own needs, much of this is wrapped up in our self-care (check out our previous article for more on this!).

Others: It’s also vital for us to build in quality time with those close to us and broaden connections in our communities and workplaces. Experts have identified a link between giving to others and an increase in our own happiness.

Surroundings: Becoming more alert to our surroundings and engaging with different spaces enhances our experience of life and protects us from auto-pilot mode. We are reminded there is more than just our own world and it’s not all about us- this is very freeing!



Life is a weaving of the bitter-sweet; full of the wins and losses, ups and downs, good and bad, joy and suffering. Altogether they provide us a richer life experience, greater opportunity for growth and building deeper relationships with others.


This article has been brought to you by Hannah, as part of The Small Things Matter, a wider mental health campaign put together by AUBSU and Student Services.