Happiness: Know When to Sweat the Small Stuff and When to Let It Go

Truly happy people respond to hassles in a moderate way. Most people make two mistakes when it comes to being hassled — experiencing the small, micro-stresses that come their way each and every day just as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west:

  • Because these stresses are not catastrophic, earth-shaking, life-altering events and circumstances, people think of them as unimportant and not worthy of their time or attention. After all, no one dies from a flat tire or a missed appointment — right?

  • People treat these minor stresses the same as major stresses (such as being fired from a job, getting a divorce, learning that a friend has cancer). In the end, they see stress as stress, no matter what the magnitude.

The truth, it turns out, is somewhere in the middle, and finding that balance between these two extremes is how you get to true happiness.

Sweat the small stuff

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the big stresses in your life are not what keep you from finding happiness — the little stresses are what do that, not individually, but collectively. Little stresses pile up and, at some point, they begin to take their toll.

This piling up of small stresses happens easily, because most people ignore the potential for hassles to do harm. They absorb the small hassles like a sponge, until they can’t hold anymore. Think of this as death by a thousand paper cuts.

The other reason people don’t sweat the small stuff is that the small stuff is part of their daily lives, not some unusual circumstance that infrequently comes their way. In effect, people consider these micro-stresses normal — just part of life.

But guess what? Medical research has shown that the impact of little, petty annoyances in the long run is far greater than that of the occasional big stress. And the more hassled you are, the less happy you tend to be.

The worst kind of hassles are those that are chronic — ones you experience repeatedly as part of an otherwise routine day. The grouchy neighbor who gives you the evil eye every day when you walk your dog past her house. Or the friend you regularly eat lunch with who always find some way to get you to pick up the check. Sound familiar?

Let the small stuff go

You can’t let go of the events that stress you, but you can let go of the physical and psychological impact that these events have on you.

Uplifting experiences lessen the impact of stress. They do this by transforming:

  • Tension into relaxation

  • Negative thoughts into positive thoughts

  • Pessimism into optimism

  • Agitation into calm

  • Displeasure into pleasure

  • Anger into love

  • Sadness into joy

  • Alienation into a feeling of being connected

  • Chaos into harmony

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