Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Little Things

Are you happy? That’s kind of a loaded question, and yet, a very simple one. Let me ask again…are you really happy? How do you know is real happiness (as opposed to instant gratification? – like when you go shopping)

Philosophers have dragged us into a timeless battle: is it about the pursuit of pleasure? Is it about detachment? Is it about morals and balance? Sometimes we cannot even understand what freaking Aristotle and company are saying. For god’s sakes, it CANNOT be that complex! In fact, the very concept of happiness needs to be truly democratic and accessible. I bet some of you are nodding just know, unless you are one of those intellectual snobs who actually get the stoics or can meditate your way out of darkness (I’m jealous, by the way).

Anyhow, I’m not a subject matter expert (loving my consultant talk) and I’m not trying to be a philosopher - the snobbish crowd feels much better now. I just want to talk about happiness through my eyes, and since I cannot really avoid my professional bias and corporate education, I’m even going to provide some “case studies” from my short experience on earth – grandpa in heaven will have to validate this (he is the wisest man I know).

This is the deal. I do not think happiness is about achieving big milestones or attaining certain state of mind that only philosophers (or confused pot smokers) can reach. Why? Because if that were the case, happiness would be unsustainable and reserved for the “enlightened” elite – that cannot be right. As human beings we accomplish very few big milestones over a lifetime: graduate 2-3 times, have a baby 2-3 times, get married-2-3 times, get the dream job 2-3 times, get divorced 2-3 times … you get the idea. The average human being lives on average 70 years (613,200 hours) and probably these big moments account for about 5 years? 10 of your life max?  What are you going to do with the rest of the 525,600 hours of life you have left? Sustainability is key. I’m not saying that we have to be happy birds the 613K of our life (that would actually make us morons), but 10 years out of 70 seems just too low.

The other thing is about the accessibility of happiness. Let me ask you this – how would you teach and explain the Aristotelian concept of happiness to your 8 year-old kid? Or to the indigenous population in the Amazon? Or to a homeless guy? It’s got to be something that we all understand, regardless of culture, education, and age…like love. We all have the right to understand happiness and be happy (I hate to sound “socialist” but I could not find a way around it, so bear with me, I’m still trying to forgive myself ).

Happiness, in my eyes, is about the little things we do for each other every day; things that we do not even dare to see as happiness because they seem too insignificant (think about the guy who helped you push your suitcase through the subway’s door out of the blue). I’m not suggesting you change your philosophy of life, I’m not that pretentious.  I just want you to think about it for a second. Below is so food for thought – my own “case studies”

·      Sisterly happiness: I was visiting my family up in Boston. My baby sister had just arrived from India and she was wearing the most awesome Indian pants ever… we both talked for a while about how much we liked folk-market-type of fashion.  On Sunday I went back home and as I was unpacking the suitcase, I found the awesome pants hidden at the bottom… baby sis had put them on my suitcase while I was sleeping the day before I left. These pants cost 5 bucks, but ask me how much they mean to me…

·      Coffee happiness: I’m on a long line at a NYC starbucks. New Yorkers are the angriest people on earth so I never expect any kind of kindness; I’m always ready to hit back.  After 10 min. lining up is finally my turn. I order my regular iced venti non-fat late and gave my credit card to the cashier. He looks at my credit card, looks at me, and then looks at my credit card again and says:  I bet people have misspelled your name your whole life (I gave him a deep smile)… And then he goes: well, NOT TODAY. For the first (and only) time in my life my name was actually written correctly on my coffee coup. A kind New Yorker took the extra 10 seconds to make it right, while having 30 other angry NewYorkers waiting in line. Isn’t this awesome or what?

·      Car happiness: I had just finished a horrible calculus class in college and was walking towards my car. When I arrived, I found a flower tied to the windshield – it had been recently picked from the nearby garden. I never found out who did it… but it kept a smile on my face for the rest of that day (and every time I remember it, like now)

·      Parking lot happiness: I’m a proud female, but I have to accept a few of the prejudices that come with the sex – I suck at parking (I’m really hoping my dad does not read this acknowledgement because he will not let me borrow his car anymore). So, I was at a mall trying to fit my car in a very tinny spot. I was sweating like crazy, 10 cars were blowing their horn and I was about to cry. This random guy saw me struggling and walked towards me and said: do you want me to help you park it? I said YES. He parked my car in like 30 secs.  He did not flirt, he did not ask for my name or number. He just parked my car, smiled and left like a good urban Samaritan

·      Home happiness: I have been living out of Venezuela for the past 10 years. Nevertheless, every time I go back home, I find fresh flowers in my room… mom never gets tired of welcoming me back

·      Hotel happiness: I had checked out of a hotel in the morning and went back around 8pm to pick up my suitcase - I had to take an overnight flight. After I ask for my suitcase I tell the guy in charge: I have a weird request for you. He replays: go on, I like weird! . I explained that I had spent half of my day walking around NY city under the rain wearing a suit and high heels (true story). I desperately needed to take a shower because my next contact with shampoo was 12 hours away from me. He gives me the are-you-crazy look and said: but you checked out this morning. Then he says: I can’t, I’m going to get in serious trouble. I gave him a Mona Lisa smile and said OK. Then he takes a deep breath and says half frighten half excited: girl, can you take a shower in 5 min? hell yes! I replied. After I’m done showering (at a perfectly clean room ready for a new guest) I was very tempted to give him a hug that would have earned me a sexual harassment sue – that’s why I held back and instead grabbed his hand in appreciation. Then he told me: please do not tell anybody! do not send any thank you letters because I will get in real trouble; this is between you and me  - and winked.

·      Work happiness: it was one of the busiest weeks ever. I had been sleeping like 4 hours a day for a week and my brain was pretty much fried. A co-worker from a previous project reaches out to me to say hi. I was not paying much attention. I apologize about my incoherence (I was replying an email, working on another BB message and talking to her at the same time). It was 11pm and I still had 4-5 solid hours of work ahead. She asked if she could help me out; I said no, but she really insisted. I was desperate and could not resist the offer…this person worked until 4am that night with me. She did not derive any benefit whatsoever from doing this (except getting her brain fried too). It was just pure generosity and friendship…

These kind of little things happen to us all the time  - please stop and think of one example right now! No, do not ignore me, please do it now…. I bet it will make you smile. The point is that we do not acknowledge these little moments of happiness, because we are too busy working on the big stuff, or wasting our time thinking of all the reasons why we are not happy. It is about how we make our brain work and perceive the world around us. The beauty of it all is that we have control over it.

We do not have to bring down the moon, make 10 million dollars or end world hunger to be happy. However, while we work hard to accomplish these types of bigger goals, we can do little things to make someone happy (e.g. wash the dishes for your mom without having her lose her vocal cords to get you to do it) and start acknowledging and enjoying the little moments of every day happiness that the world around us gives away (like the random guy that tells you that you are beautiful at the super market line)

Believe me, all these little things add up BIG TIME…

Optional Assignment – if you can,  try to do just one nice little thing for someone today… if you feel like it, share it; I would love to read about it. Can you imagine if we could get just 0.5% of the world population to do it? We will have 33.5 million of little moments of happiness. There is nothing really little about that…  

Just a thought,



  1. Spectacular writing! ...and you're absolutely right! It's funny how you said your grandpa was the wisest guy in the world, I think that about my grandpa too, and the sad thing is that I always knew that but it's only when he passed a year ago that now more than ever I have so many questions for him! it is like I always took him for granted, like I thought he would live forever and be there for whenever I needed to ask him something and always ready to give me the perfect answer... and that's why you have to cherish every moment (it sounds kind of cliche, like a hallmark card, but that typical saying of you don't know what you have 'till you loose it is SO TRUE). It is so funny how my grandfather always used to say something similar to what you just wrote "true happiness doesn't exist, just happy moments" so I guess the conclusion is to identify those happy moments that we don't even realize they're there and "add them up" so hopefully that number goes up and closer to the 613K; and after reading this I'm gonna start paying closer attention because my goal is to reach at least half of that number before I die.
    Tatiana Vegas ;)

  2. so beautiful sis!!!!!! and so true! I'd like to share a moment of happiness that happened to me just yesterday: I am sick with a cold and got into my car to go to CVS and buy Sudafed (I ran out). I had my window open and stopped at a stop sign. Right next to me in the sidewalk was an old guy that looked a bit homeless and was getting on his bicycle. As I stopped, a big coughing attack came. He heard it of course because my window was open. He then turned to me and with a super big smile said "God bless you miss. I wish you much health." How cute was that? It made me smile all the way to the CVS.

  3. One of my Top Random Acts of Kidness:

    A taxi driver stepped out of his car, crossed a busy road stopping the mad cars, and walked me back to his cab carrying my suitcase. After thanking him for the miracle he had just made, I demanded to be taken to the bus station as quickly as possible. Once there, the bus driver told me I wouldnt make it on time to the airport, so desperately i started looking around for options. I had no cash with me...not even for a tall late, and no time to go up to the atm.

    Jason, the same taxi driver who was now stuck in the jam, saw me confused and called me back to his car. I came closer but i screamed: "I have no money". He replied: "Its ok, come, you have to catch the flight to see your sister".

    Forty minutes later, conviced already he was my angel, he made me get on that plane. He didnt respect any traffic sign, he rushed between lanes and almost didnt touch the break on a friday, in a Muslim country and the begining of a long weekend. (In muslim countries fridays are horrible traffic days).

    To top it all, by the end of the ride, he took something between his hands and handed it to me. "I've had this for a long time, so you should have it now". It was a cross...a christian cross. Golden color.

    To make the story short, I made it to see my sister. The cross i wear it everyday since then, not being particularly religious. I had given him 30usd that i had as my emergency fund (not the currency used there) and when my sister got back in town, he drove her all around.


  4. Hi Denys! This is Clemencia, one of your mon-&-dad's slightly deranged Friday friends.
    I agree with your friend Tatiana: this is great writing! May l add my two cents? Hope you are nodding a yes as you read.
    I have long believed that happiness is not a destination but a way of traveling. It is like choosing to go by boat instead of by boat - you tell yourself: I will choose the boat and enjoy the sea, and the stars at night, and the dolphins swimming ahead of the wake; or you choose the boat and then tell yourself: I will choose the boat and shall be seasick all the time, and get a horrible allergy from eating fish, and smell the burnt petrol from the motor all the time. A boat is both things - the stars at night and the burnt petrol, the dolphins and the allergy, but it is what you choose to EMBRACE what makes the difference.
    Therefore, happiness is a decision that you make in life. "I am a happy person" - you tell yourself, and then proceed to act accordingly.
    Keep writing, tweetie pie!