Practicing Appreciation for "The Little Things"

Sunday, September 6, 2015 - 22:26
Two kids with arms around each other while walking down a dirt path.

It was the most important Christmas present I ever received because it changed the course of my life forever. I remember the confusion that came over me as I opened the box and Uncle Warren had to explain to me that it was a Packard Bell Pentium 60, which consisted of top-of-the-line hardware for a consumer computer. I didn't know at the time that this would serve as the spark of my interest in technology, computer programming, and in open source software. And it would have never happened if it were not for the generosity and thoughtfulness of my uncle.

Fast forward to my daughter Evelyn, who is currently 17 months old and has already developed a knack for pressing the home button on my iPhone so that she can babble with Siri. By age 5, Evelyn will have access to smart phones with 1000 times more RAM and CPU processing power at 1/100th the cost of that Packard Bell. And yet despite this extraordinary improvement for pennies on the dollar, getting her such a device for Christmas will be somewhat of a non-event because cheap, powerful technology is so ubiquitous that it becomes invisible, much like a fish forgetting that it's constantly submerged within water.

The Progress Paradox

Several authors have touched on this phenomenon in greater depth. Gregg Easterbrook's book The Progress Paradox makes the case that while every American in today's world has access to things that were previously considered luxuries to previous generations, surveys show that the overall percentage of Americans that identify themselves as "happy" continues to decline. And The Book of Life has a chapter devoted to our disconnect between cost and value.

The overarching theme of these two works is simple: despite widespread advances in technology and access to information, cheaper goods, and cheaper services, we begin to lose sight of the value these things because they no longer come with an expensive price tag.

The mixup of cost and value is so pervasive that it's even in our language. 25 years ago (i.e. 1990), giving a child a computer could be considered a life changing event (as it was for me). Today, giving a child access to something 1000 times more powerful is often followed up with downplaying phrases like "oh that, it's nothing". But it is not nothing! A smartphone given to a child can provide the same life-changing spark I experienced. And a smartphone given to a child in a 3rd world country has the potential to change not only his or her life, but it can start a ripple effect with those around them AND the generations that follow after them. It's not "nothing". It has the potential to be a big damn deal!

Re-Discovering the Value of "The Little Things"

We're all guilty of taking things for granted at some point and in some are of life. The reality is that this is simply a habit that can be reversed with practice and repetition. I know this from experience because I've made it a point/priority to spend 5 minutes of each day to either write down or verbally state everything and anything that I'm grateful for in life.

At first, this exercise can be a little difficult. When I started out I focused on only the really big things (e.g. getting married to Emily, graduating from college, etc.). However, you will soon run out of "big things" and that is when the real challenge begins. Can you acknowledge all the little things that, if you really think about them, also shaped your life for the better?

It could be people you once knew that made a difference in your life. It could be a stranger's smile or kind gesture. It could be a time where you got to read a book you really enjoyed or a conversation with a friend that made you laugh and feel really energized. It could be the fact that you never had to worry about when and where your next meal was coming from. It could be that you've always had a roof over your head and shoes on your foot. It could be as simple as you had a good day and that you take comfort in that there will be more good days ahead.

Like compound interest, all of these little things add up and multiple over time into really big things. And if you take the time (at least daily) to really acknowledge and appreciate the big and little things in your life, you may be surprised to re-discover just how blessed your life actually is. At a minimum, you'll get warm fuzzies for a few minutes, and that alone has been a positive enough experience for me to continue my practice every day.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: Chief Product Officer of DRUD Tech. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.