How to Stop Sweating the Small Stuff

UPDATED: May 27, 2024
PUBLISHED: August 30, 2016
How to Stop Sweating the Small Stuff

When you’re in a stressful situation, it’s easy to sweat the small the stuff. However miniscule or potentially life-altering, the spectrum of life’s problems warrants our attention, time and energy in varying degrees. When we fail to pump the brakes and we allow our minds to play out potential worst-case scenarios indiscriminately, excessive focus on small problems compounds a vicious cycle of fear, stress and worry. And those petty things can become big setbacks and barriers to our growth and eventual success.

At the same time that “the small stuff” can affect our moods, focusing on positive “small stuff” brings potential for joy. We need to acknowledge when circumstances go well as the result of our efforts coming to fruition. Otherwise we suffer an opportunity cost for flourishing in a state of gratitude that invigorates our well-being. Calling serendipitous events and small blessings as we see them prevents them from fading into a forgotten backdrop and cheating us of our well-being.

As Ferris Bueller whimsically remarked, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Stop and recognize the little things you can be grateful for, even when they seem insignificant at face value. Being in a perpetual state of gratitude offsets limitations that come when you focus on problems or what’s missing from your life. Start with the small things.

Related: 5 Ways to Be More Grateful on the Daily

Here’s more of what paying tribute to the small stuff will do for your well-being and personal growth:

You reap what you sow.

As famous American author Kurt Vonnegut once stated, “Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.” Gratitude snowballs just as much as any other positive or negative mood state that you invest in. It allows you to harness the momentum to transform your mood and well-being.

Count your blessings and feel the synergism of happiness and fulfillment that comes with reflecting on gratitude. But don’t stop at what you are grateful for; reflect on why to allow thought and expression of gratitude to permeate your emotions. The more you understand what and why you’re grateful for something, the greater your vision for recognizing other things to be grateful for. Being grateful for the small things also magnifies your gratitude for larger things.

Finding gratitude starts with paying attention to external and internal factors. In Rhonda Byrne’s best-seller The Magic, she suggests you start by asking yourself what 10 blessings you had that day. This reframes your focus to be keen on recognizing positive things. Also ask what you can be grateful for from yesterday, tomorrow, a week from now. Starting with these simple questions makes you answer important questions about the vital things in your life.

There is power in small things.

Because there are inevitable times when things don’t run perfectly, why not relish in the fact that you can enjoy the serendipity when they do go right? Appreciate that when simple things work in your favor, they make life that much smoother—a sunny day boosts your mood; a random stranger asks about your day and listens to the answer; you find a convenient parking spot; you share a perfectly cooked meal with loved ones. Let that gratitude list grow without refrain. Gratitude doesn’t always have to be grand in expression for it to be effective and uplifting.

But gratitude also transcends the small stuff. Appreciate the value of your relationships, the opportunity to impact the world through your work, and life lessons you’ve learned along the way. Much can go wrong in life and can increasingly go wrong when that is your lone fixation. When you pay attention to what’s working for you, you also realize that you can be grateful for random, unexpected and unrelated blessings just as much as the blessings that resulted from your efforts and intentions. And when things don’t work out, be grateful for the learning experience. Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.

Celebrate your milestones.

It’s easy to lose yourself in the thick of your long-term goals and become demoralized when you encounter setbacks or don’t see immediate results. Be attentive to the accomplishment of smaller steps too, because progress can only be seen through acknowledgement while your end-goal remains distant. For example, maybe you set a goal to read a book a month this year. Halfway through you might have only gotten through three books because of life’s busy strokes. Not acknowledging your progress provides a source of frustration. It’s still more books than you read last year.

Your attitude is everything.

Seeking gratitude nurtures an attitude of abundance. American author and pastor James MacDonald suggests this connection: “Gratitude is the attitude that sets the altitude for living.” Shifting your focus from what you don’t have to what you do have entertains the idea that you have something to work with within your current situation, instead of imposing limitations. After all, what gratitude do you experience when focusing exclusively on what you lack, or on negative news and limitations? Take these simple sayings: “You can’t be grateful and feel sorry for yourself at the same time” and “Someone else is happy with less than you have”—they ultimately suggest that gratitude constitutes a matter of perception and frame of mind, instead of it correlating to what people have in absolute value.

Train yourself to recognize blessings in disguise, to appreciate “haves” instead of “have-nots.” It will shift your focus from what is wrong to what you have going right for you. Don’t put your gratitude on hold by waiting years to reach a goal before feeling grateful—fulfillment through gratitude can be found and experienced with simplicity now.

Related: 4 Ways to Be More Positive

Andy Banh

Andrew Banh, PT, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist specializing in orthopedics who thoroughly enjoys helping people, young or old, recover and return from various injuries.