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Encouraging Words

A Blog with Fresh Take on Addiction Recovery

  • Writer's pictureDee

Happiness in Addiction Recovery and in Life is All About the Little Things

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

Small Memories with Meaning

My aunt passed away last month, and I’ve just returned from a memorial service for her. It was sad but lovely, filled with warm, shared memories with family and friends. She was an amazing person, and I won’t try to paint you her picture here, but something one of her daughter shared in her remembrance, was that she was “all about the little things.” And something in that clicked so strongly for me, as I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit in my own contexts. There’s something very warming about finding these sorts of generational threads, memories, values and beliefs through the family.


Bud vase with cherry blossoms.
It’s all about the little things. Bud vase. Image by Susanne Jutzeler, Pixabay.

Now, in my own memory, too, with my aunt, this manifested in an attention to detail that now seems out of sync with the modern world. When she was younger, she personally cooked and oversaw massive dinner parties for her husband’s colleagues. She always sent thank you notes and kept in touch with people and kept a spotless home and raised four children. In later years, she grew her own vegetables and baked her own bread.


She wasn’t opposed to spending money or modern conveniences or anything like that, but there was a personal attention to detail that has become rare. To us, the next generation down, those little things often seemed fussy or unduly arduous when the world moves at a speed where we don’t have much time for family dinners every night or well-planned parties for birthdays or preparing a spotless guest room always, always with at least one perfect flower displayed as a ray of welcome. So many little touches and their consistency have stuck with all of us, though.



A hawk on a tree in Avondale, Cincinnati, OH. Dee
Finding the positives

Living on the Positive Side of Life

Now, looking at my life, one might say, “What is she talking about? She has nothing resembling graceful touches of living like that!” And that is true. But I think it manifests in other ways for me. I try to appreciate and pay attention when I can. I’m a fan of small gestures in my daily interactions with the people around me, and so I have lots of pleasant little interactions that lift my spirits all the time. I went to my neighborhood’s grubby convenience store this morning, and it was like Pet Day or something. There was the most adorable puppy in someone’s arms, and a kitten in someone else’s purse. Lots of smiling, and little children excited and exclaiming. It was a lovely little start to the day, as I was getting a cup of coffee.


I never noticed anything much when I was using. Now, as I pay attention to little moments like these, I find them more and more, and I enjoy them more and more, too. I live in a rough part of town, and happy, uplifting images aren’t always readily apparent. But the little things matter here, too, and they make a difference.


A couple of days ago, it was a gorgeous day, and one of the street dealers called down the street to wish me a happy belated mother’s day, because I had been away. Another quietly stepped up ready to help, when someone mentally disturbed looked like they might start hassling me, and my favorite neighbor and I had a big, warm mother’s day hug a little later on in the day. These all may seem tiny or inconsequential, but they are little moments of beauty, of connection, of joy.


Profusion of pink tulips
Pursuing happiness

Pursuing Happiness

I think, in the past, I always wanted to GET to that place called happiness. Where everything went smoothly and nothing ever went wrong. Just all the time peak bliss … In work, at home, with myself, feeling good. And I never came very close. Even at the peak of the highs. I couldn’t really enjoy them because I wanted to get MORE of that high, because I wasn’t, quite, ever there, to that place of ultimate, perfection and lasting satisfaction. I was always caught up in a chase.


Now that I’ve slowed down some -- and much of it may have to do with getting older, in honesty -- the high, high, high peaks scare me more. I’m pretty clearly able to see the tie between being “almost there,” and then tipping over into disaster. Not just with substances or addictive issues, but just in general, as I respond to life. Excess is not my friend anymore.


When I look back at the things that have had the most meaning in my life, it’s not those peak feelings of bliss from shattering happiness, getting high or an “achievement,” it’s more about those things that seemed so little at the time. A warm moment. A remembered conversation. Laughing, or crying, with someone. Of course, having my children and holding them. Moments of intimacy.


I’ve lived through some fairly dire circumstances, and I’ve also tasted great luxury here and there, so when I look around me now, I try to remember my gratitude for all kinds of things, but especially for the littlest -- hot water feels so good, it should be banned; electricity is amazing and provides a huge big blanket of comfort in so many ways, including heat, air, cooking, communication … and pretty much everything we’ve come to depend on for “normal” living. A roof. A place you can lock the door. These are priceless.



Flowering tree under a balcony, Cincinnati, OH. Dee.
Being happy

Being Happy in the Little Things

So as I’ve built a better, less precarious life, I try to practice noticing and appreciating what’s around me. There’s almost always something, even on a bad day. And just because my entire situation isn’t optimal doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the parts that are good right now, as I work on the rest.


I personally found a big difference between chasing happiness and just being -- happy, or content, or accepting of where I find myself. Taking the time to notice the good pieces, the humanity, the beauty, the strength, the history …


I live in a bad area, but I have a pretty nice place. I have a gorgeous big tree in a courtyard, and I can sit out on my balcony and look out at it. Nature plays a big part in renewing my mind and spirit, even though I’m in an urban area. Maybe more, because you have to look for it a little harder, but it’s still everywhere. I notice the little spots of greenery and the flowers and the architecture and the history around me. The birds and their songs. Nature pops out everywhere. Fighting her way back against encroachment. I find a lot of beauty in the world.


So yes, I find those little things matter to me in my own way. The attention to detail, beauty, doing things right, thinking of others at the most modest level -- giving a smile, a hand, an ear. A small compliment. A kind thought. More and more, I suspect this is what happiness is made of. All those little moments, gestures, efforts. And even more so with family, with that background of childhood memories and the healthy beliefs we managed to absorb, in spite of the weird messages of the times and the hardships and difficulties of life along the way.


Healthy Beliefs

So what would healthy beliefs be? To me, it would be ones that are affirmative, realistic and aren’t at the expense of ourselves or anyone else. I think they stem from our values. So things like, whatever is rooted in kindness, encouragement, taking thoughtful action, considering others, things along those lines. Us at our best. And we all get to choose what those healthy beliefs are, to us, what our own best self looks like.


Mindfulness and Acceptance

The little things in life, like the ones I'm describing, are not essential. However, they have made my life happier and richer than drugs or alcohol ever did. I'm not a student of mindfulness, but I think that's what it is -- allowing ourselves to experience the world around us, to notice it, to cultivate the things that are fruitful and let the rest go. It's about noticing, accepting and enjoying the reality of the little things in our present moments while working towards what we want for the future.


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