Pursuing the Excellent Life
April 13, 2022

The Power of Small Things: The Between Times

We mark the progress of our lives through big events, but most of life occurs in the between times, the times that lie between the big events. In this episode, Craig discusses the importance of the small events that occur between the big events, and how recognizing the value of the small events can help with your flourishing. As usual, he offers three things you can do this week to better appreciate the between times, and to move forward on your journey towards living a flourishing life.

Live Well and Flourish website: https://www.livewellandflourish.com/ 

Happiness - A Sceptic’s Guide: https://scepticsguide.podbean.com/

Episode 24 - Happiness and Positive Psychology (Using PERMA): https://scepticsguide.podbean.com/e/happiness-and-positive-psychology-using-perma/

 The theme music for Live Well and Flourish was written by Hazel Crossler, hazel.crossler@gmail.com.

Production assistant - Paul Robert


Craig 00:10 

 Welcome to Live Well and Flourish, where I help you understand what it means to live a flourishing life. I'm your host, Craig Van Slyke. If you're ready to think beyond material and external success, if you're ready to take control of who you are and the kind of life you live, if you're ready to flourish, this is the podcast for you.

 In this episode of Live Well and Flourish, I’ll help you understand how to recognize the pleasure that comes from the “between times” … the times that occur between life’s big events. 

 Craig 00:42 

A few years ago Tracy and I were vacationing in Ireland (we had a fantastic time by the way). We were sitting in a pub in Cobh, which is on an island in Cork Harbour, and started talking to a couple of locals. We were talking about Arizona, where we lived at the time, and Tracy mentioned that we had been waiting almost six months for the monsoon season, and rain. One of the Irish lads remarked, “In Ireland, sometimes we have to wait two hours.” If you’ve ever been to rainy Ireland, you’ll know why this is funny … and true. I posted this little vignette to Facebook, and my good friend Ansel replied “Living within the drought and the deluge.” (Ansel is a talented songwriter, and is great with a turn of phrase.) Ansel’s remark not only describes life in Arizona, but is also a pretty good metaphor for life generally.

 Craig 01:31 

Many of us mark our lives through the big events, births and deaths, successes and failures, joys and sorrows. But most of life occurs between these “droughts and deluges.” Sadly many of us forget this, we focus on the highs and lows and ignore the space between. Ansel’s comment started me thinking about this tendency and its consequences. I realized that I’m guilty of focusing too much on the highs and lows. Don’t misunderstand me, the highs and lows are important parts of life, but they’re not the only parts and they certainly don’t occupy the biggest chunks of your life. In fact, the big things are memorable in part because they’re unusual. Being the reflective sort, I started thinking about my between times. I realized that some are pretty forgetful, but others are among the most enjoyable parts of my days.

 Craig 02:23 

When we lived in Flagstaff, most evenings, when the weather was nice, Tracy and I would sit in our backyard, having drinks and watching the dogs play and the birds feed. During these times, Tracy and I had a chance to catch up on our days, have a laugh or two at the pups’ antics and generally just enjoy our little family. These times were nice, no more than nice, they were wonderful. I feel the same way about my walks with Maggie or our nightly routine of giving carrots to the horses and goats, and innumerable other times between drought and deluge. The big things are great, but life occurs in the little things. Appreciating small things sounds like a bit of a cliché, I suppose, but sometimes clichés become clichés because of the truth they contain.

 Craig 03:10 

Thinking back on it, our Irish vacation illustrated the worth of the between times. We drove all over the southern portion of Ireland, visiting a half dozen towns. We really didn’t do much in the traditional tourist sense. We viewed the countryside, walked around a lot, and stopped into some pubs. Sure, we saw the requisite castle and cathedral, and they were amazing, but for both of us the between times were our favorites. Sitting on the deck of our room in Cobh, watching boats in the Cork Harbour, striking up a conversation in a pub, stopping to listen to some music, nothing all that remarkable, but without a doubt the gems in our vacation experience. 

 Craig 03:51 

Let’s look at how recognizing the between times can help you flourish. I’m going to frame this around Martin Seligman’s PERMA framework of flourishing. You can learn more about happiness and Seligman’s framework by listening to my friends at the Happiness - A Sceptic’s Guide podcast. They have an excellent episode on the PERMA framework. Check out their Episode 24. (There’s a link in the show notes.) By the way, you should check out Happiness - A Sceptics Guide. Paul Flower and Dr. Gary Wood separate self-help science from the snake-oil to help you improve your happiness and well-being. Their episodes are a rare mix of entertaining and informative, and are well worth your time. Happiness - A Sceptic’s Guide is available on all major podcast apps, and at scepticsguide.podbean.com/. Note that Sceptics uses the British spelling, SCEPTICS. 

 Craig 04:54 

So, what is the PERMA framework? Seligman’s framework contends that well-being depends on five key aspects of life: positive emotions, engagement, relationships (positive relationships), meaning, and accomplishments. My “small things” concept seems to relate to at least three of these, positive emotions, relationships, and accomplishments. 

 The relationship between appreciating small things and positive emotions seems pretty clear to me. If we savor the “between times” -- the small events that occur between the big events, we’ll learn to recognize and value them, which should increase the extent to which we experience positive emotions. Let me give you a simple example. Pretty much every morning, two of our cats, Sasha and Taz follow me up to my office and relax as I start my day. Sasha usually lays on the bed that’s next to my desk. I absolutely love scratching her belly while she’s laying there. (And judging from the purring, she likes it too.) This is a very small thing, but it starts my workday with a flood of positive emotions. I just can’t help but smile when I rub her belly. This is the epitome of a small thing, but it absolutely enhances my well-being. You can probably think of dozens of similar small things that make you happy. Recognize their value and you’ll increase the salience of the connection between the tiny thing and your positive emotions, which will help you realize other small, pleasurable things.

 Craig 06:26 

Recognizing the value of small things can also enhance your relationships. We’re social creatures, so positive, supportive relationships are important to flourishing. Much of our involvement with others occurs in the “between times” -- the day to day activities of life. By realizing the importance of these small events, you’re more likely to value them, and you’ll be likely to signal this value to the others involved, which will strengthen your relationships and increase your flourishing.

 So far, you might be thinking that what I’m saying here really isn’t anything new, and maybe it isn’t. Lots of people have written and talked about the value of simple pleasures. Allow me to point out that this doesn’t change the fact that enjoying the between times is important. In fact, so many people recognizing the value of small pleasures just strengthens my claim that realizing this value of the between times enhances your flourishing. Let’s talk about something that has received less attention - the importance of recognizing small accomplishments.

 Craig 07:32 

Small things are especially important when it comes to accomplishments. Usually, we think of accomplishment in terms of big things, such as getting a promotion or winning an award. These are fine things, but if you reserve our sense of accomplishment for only these big things, you're missing out. Whether you realize it or not, you accomplish many small things each day. Every time you’re kind, or selfless, or thoughtful or disciplined, you’ve accomplished something. Unfortunately, most of us miss these. We view them as trivial parts of our day. But, although they may be small, they are not trivial. Trivial means of little worth or importance. I would argue that these small achievements are anything but trivial, if for no other reason than the sheer weight of their number. For every big accomplishment, you experience dozens if not hundreds of small accomplishments. In fact, often your big achievements are made up of lots of interconnected small achievements. (In the next episode I’ll talk more about this when I discuss the small wins strategy.)

 Craig 08:42 

Here’s the really important part -- accomplishment, in my experience, leads to more accomplishment. I’m not sure how this happens, but it seems that a big part of this is the increased sense of competence that achievement brings. (By the way, a feeling of competence is an important part of well-being.) So, the more you feel that you gain accomplishment, the more you feel competent, and the more you feel optimistic about future accomplishment, which can lead to further accomplishment. Simply put, accomplishment begets accomplishment. The trick here, if we can call it a trick, is to recognize small accomplishments as accomplishments. 

 Let me reiterate: Whether you realize it or not, you have dozens of tiny accomplishments every day. Every time you’re kind, every time you take the time to listen to someone, every time you’re helpful, every time you pause, however briefly, and appreciate the wonder that is life, you’ve accomplished something. Recognize your small accomplishments so that you’ll mark these achievements as important parts of your flourishing life.

 Craig 09:51 

 In the last episode, I talked about small kindnesses, which I called micro-kindness. As I’ve mentioned then, when you practice micro-kindness you make the world better. Sure, it’s a tiny thing, but you never know how important your kindness might be to the beneficiary of your small, kind act. So, I think you can look at your small acts of kindness as a sort of triple achievement -- you’ve lived according to virtue, you’ve done something for someone, and you’ve made the world a better place, you have accomplished something in three important areas. That’s a win-win-win in my book, and I hope in yours.

 There’s an important implicit requirement for taking advantage of small things. To gain from the small things, you need to be aware of them, which requires being mindful. Fully benefiting from small things requires recognizing them and their value, which requires first being aware of them. So, to take full advantage of small things, you need to get out of autopilot mode so that you can recognize and appreciate the significant value of these small things.

 Craig 10:58 

Before we talk about three things you can do this week to build a practice of appreciating small things, I have a small favor to ask. Would you please take just a few minutes and share this episode with someone you care about? We can all benefit from recognizing the value of small things, the value of the "between times", so sharing this episode would bestow a small favor on your friend, and on me. Thank you!

So, what can you do to build a practice of benefiting from the between times … the small pleasures and accomplishments that come between the big events in life? Unsurprisingly, I have some thoughts.

Craig 11:39 

First, work on bringing the small things to the forefront of your consciousness. One way to do this is to take a few minutes at lunchtime to write down three small accomplishments from the morning. Remember, these need not be large accomplishments. Maybe you held your temper in check when dealing with a frustrating situation. Maybe you cut back on the cream in your coffee. Maybe you just smiled and said good morning to a coworker. Well, whatever. Just write them down in a notebook or in your favorite note taking app. Recording these accomplishments is important, as you’ll see in a moment. Then, do the same thing at the end of the day. Write down three small accomplishments from the afternoon. 

Second, each morning, review your list from the previous day. Just read through the list and take a few seconds to reinforce the feeling of accomplishment and pleasure from these small achievements. Then, at the end of the week, review the list for the entire week. If my math is right, you will have recorded 42 accomplishments. Imagine how great it will feel to look back on a week with 42 accomplishments! That’s an awesome week!! Do this for a month and you’ll have 180 accomplishments or more (except for February of course). Over the course of a year, you will have recorded almost 2,200 accomplishments. That’s not a good year, that’s a great year. 

Craig 13:06 

Finally, make a list (yes, another list) of five small things that bring you pleasure. Here’s my list -- having the kitties nap in my office while I work, watching bad TV each evening with Tracy, treat time with the goats and horses (they are just hilarious), the taste of my morning granola and yogurt, learning something new (often from podcasts), listening to a song from my younger days, discovering new music, going on walks with Maggie, giving the collies snoot rubs and belly scratches, listening to the peacefulness of our ranch. Wait, that’s a lot more than five. So, scratch my earlier statement. Make a list of TEN small things that bring you pleasure. Each morning with your breakfast (you DO eat breakfast, don’t you? It’s the most important meal of the day), read your list to fix your mind on these small things so that you can more fully appreciate the richness they bring to your life. You might also want to add to the list as new small pleasures come to mind so you appreciate them as well.

Craig 14:10 

Life occurs in the gaps between the big events. With a little practice you can build a habit of better recognizing the amazing little pleasures and accomplishments that fill your days. Making this small effort will yield big returns for your flourishing and for the flourishing of those around you.

What is your list of small pleasures? I’d love for you to share them with me at goatdad@pm.me, or you can leave a message at livewellandflourish.com. You can even leave a voicemail using the microphone button in the lower-right corner of livewellandflourish.com. I’ll share some of them in a future episode (anonymously of course).

I’ll sign off with a quote that I’ve used before, but it’s one that bears repeating, it’s from Marcus Aurelius, Stoic philosopher and the last good emperor of Rome:

When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.

Until next time, my friends. Be well.

Craig 15:17  

I produce Live Well And Flourish because of my dedication to helping others live excellent lives. I don't accept sponsorships and I don't want your money. The only thing I want is to help you and others flourish. If you've received some value from this episode, please share it with someone that might also benefit from listening. The best way to do that is to direct them to livewellandflourish.com. Until next time.