This morning I was flying from Boston to San Francisco. It’s a work trip I’ve done many times before and it’s familiar in all ways – from the drive to the airport, to the layout of the small Virgin America terminal, to the content of the in-flight announcement (I love that Virgin uses human language vs. we-are-treating-you-like-robots language), to the snack selection and more. I’m usually on full autopilot from the time I leave my house and often land in San Francisco without remembering all the details of how I got there.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course. In fact, it’s how our brains are meant to function: They've become super-efficient at processing familiar information, like our daily routines, so they have more energy to spend on new and unfamiliar experiences. And being efficient means that the brain doesn’t capture or store the little details that fill our daily routines. (If you’ve ever felt like time is moving faster as you get older, this is exactly why: as we get older our days are usually filled with more and more of the familiar, and since the brain isn’t taking mental notes of these daily experiences, our days feel a lot shorter and move faster.)
But there's a downside to our efficient brains: They make it easy to go through our familiar routines without pausing to appreciate the many tiny awesome things that are hiding in them. This is the essence of practicing gratitude and it’s why I always say it’s super simple but not easy: You have to counter-act your brain’s inertia and actually intentionally notice the small good moments in your days -- however familiar they may be -- pause, and acknowledge them.
When you do this and when you make this a habit what you most often realize is that you’ve got a lot more to appreciate in your life than you thought. I do a lot of speaking and one of the most common things I hear from people after my workshops is that they realize they’re a lot happier than they'd thought. They tell me they seem to take a lot of small good things for granted, something I think we can all relate to.
So here’s to practicing what you preach: Instead of going on my usual autopilot, this morning I decided to find 10 tiny things to appreciate about my familiar trip. I hope they inspire you to find something small and awesome in your daily routine – and to keep looking for those moments every day (yes, I'm convinced at least one amazing moment is there -- even on those horrible-no- good-very-bad days...and I speak from experience):
1. Less snow than expected. We were supposed to get more snow and I was stressing out about my flight being delayed. When I woke up this morning it turned out we got way less than expected and the flight was on time. Sometimes the small awesome moment is something stressful NOT happening.
2. Super useful technology. I used Uber to get a car to take me to the airport and checked traffic on Waze to make sure I had enough time to get there. There are little helpers like this in all of our lives. What’s yours?
3. Less traffic than I thought. We’ve had a horrible snowy winter and traffic has been terrible. I left with enough time but was pleasantly surprised that while the highway was congested, it wasn’t as bad as I expected.
4. Smiling gate agents. The woman who checked my ticket and license was all smiles and had tons of energy early in the morning. All that science about making others’ happier if you smile? Truth.
5. Getting to the gate right on time. I'm not a fan of waiting (“Patience is a virtue,” isn’t a quote I hang on my vision board.) When I got to the gate they were calling my set of rows to board – win!
6. Beautiful views from my window seat. The sky was bright and blue, and really beautiful with the contrast to the white snow all around as we took off. I shut off my phone to actually sit and look outside for a few minutes. There’s something beautiful to see every day. Can you find it?
7. Nice and quiet people in seats next to me. You know that feeling of looking down the aisle to see who will be sitting next to you and hoping it’s someone nice, quiet, and not travel-obnoxious? We all do it. I’ve traveled for 15 years and I do it, and on this trip I appreciated my awesome row-mates.
8. My tiny laptop so I can work easily. I need to get work done and love that I have a small 11-inch laptop that conveniently fits on my lap. (Yes, even after the person in front of me reclines their seat.)
9. Earl Gray tea with milk. I love that this airline has good quality tea and it comes in small sturdy cups that almost feel like the real thing. Is there something you eat or drink often that you really enjoy?
10. Getting a text from my friend to check up on my flight. My friend knew I was flying this morning and that there was a potential snow issue, so she texted me to see if I was on time. It was a tiny thing that totally made my morning.
Happiness isn’t about huge amazing things, but about noticing the little good things we tend to glance over in our days. C’mon, even if you’re the biggest positive attitude cynic, give it a shot. Been there, done that, and ended up writing an article about how gratitude changed my life.