Why the Small Things Matter

UPDATED: May 27, 2024
PUBLISHED: September 16, 2017

A few months ago, while shopping in Target, I found myself in the kitchen section. Because I was killing time before I had to pick up my daughter from school, I lingered in the aisles a little longer than I normally would. A large four-cup measuring cup caught my eye. I was reminded that I’ve always wanted a four-cup measuring cup because it would make baking and cooking so much easier, yet I’ve never bought one. In that moment, I threw caution to the wind and put that measuring cup in my cart. It was a bargain at $4.99. Now I use it all the time, which makes me wonder why I waited so long to buy this small, inexpensive thing that has made such a difference in my life. I realize you’re probably wondering how lame my life is that I’m this excited about a new measuring cup, but it ended up being a moment that changed the way I view the small moments in life.

Related: 4 Science-Backed Reasons Gratitude Brings You Happiness

We all have them; those small moments or things that often go unnoticed or unappreciated because we think they’re either insignificant or we take them for granted because we live in a culture that celebrates big accomplishments. But what if we made it a habit to embrace and celebrate the small things? Real life is happening all around us while we’re waiting for the big thing we hope is going to give us some sort of inner peace, contentment or joy. The truth is that often the things that matter most are the small ones.

OK, so a $4.99 Target measuring cup didn’t really change my life, but it did change my perspective. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to value the small things.

1. Look for ways to give back.

Sometimes the best way to remember the value of small things is to look for random acts of kindness you can do for others. Don’t underestimate the power of delivering a meal to a sick friend, inviting a new co-worker to eat lunch with you, volunteering a few hours a week at a nursing home, or offering to drive carpool when it’s not your turn but you know your friend is having a busy week.

2. Free yourself from the pressure of needing to be noticed.

It’s so easy to feel like we are being overlooked at home, at work or in our community when we are doing the small, faithful things, because they are usually not the glamorous things. It can feel more gratifying to be the loudest voice in the room, but we need to remember that just because a voice is the loudest doesn’t mean it’s the one making the biggest difference. When we can get to a point where we find value in our contributions, no matter how small, it helps us be secure in who we are and eliminates the need to be constantly noticed.

3. Slow down.

Our daily lives move so fast. We rush from meeting to meeting, often attempting to fit 32 hours’ worth of activities into a 24-hour day. This hectic schedule can cause us to overlook all the little joys life has to offer. Don’t be afraid to make time to (literally) stop and smell the roses. Listen to the sound of your kids laughing and actually getting along in the back seat, enjoy the cool, crisp air of the first fall day, or take a walk around the block to clear your mind and give yourself a mental break. Work and responsibilities will still be there when you return.

4. Treat yourself to something special.

Donna Meagle and Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation were right; sometimes you need to treat yourself to something. It doesn’t have to be something as dumb as a measuring cup. Buy those shoes, get that new handbag, read that book, play a round of golf on a beautiful day or eat some ice cream. Life is better when you give yourself permission to take advantage of the fact that you’re a grown-up and can occasionally splurge on some little thing that makes you happy.

5. Practice gratitude.

I know, I know, you probably just rolled your eyes at this because it sounds like something your mom used to tell you, but it’s true. The more thankful we are for what we have, the less inclined we are to focus on what we don’t have. Gratitude helps us value the small things we often take for granted because we start paying attention to the good things in life. Some days, it can be as exciting as getting a promotion at work, and some days it might just be that your coffee tasted good that morning. I’ve found that my overall attitude toward life in general is better if I make myself mentally check off three things I’m thankful for at the end of each day.

I used to live for life’s big moments. But in that funny way life has of teaching as you go, I’ve learned over the years that it’s usually not the big moments that make up a life as much. It’s not going to college and setting up a dorm room that makes you an adult, but the discipline of showing up for class and studying for tests. It’s not the wedding ceremony that makes you a married couple, but the daily commitment to stay in love. And it’s not giving birth or signing adoption papers that makes you a parent, but braiding hair and kissing scraped knees and listening to someone sound out the word “cat” until you want to gnaw your arm off to make it stop.

Vincent van Gogh once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together,” and I believe that’s why valuing the small moments is the key to living a life that has meaning and significance beyond measure.

Related: 5 Ways to Be More Grateful on the Daily

Melanie Shankle is a New York Timesbest-selling author, podcaster, wife and mother. The Texas A&M graduate is also a guest blogger for high-profile outlets and an in-demand speaker for events across the country. Her next book, Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a Life, is out October 3. Melanie lives with her husband Perry and their daughter Caroline in San Antonio, Texas. For more information, please visit melanieshankle.com.