Not Sweating the Small Stuff
Trivia snippet: Nearly a decade before Richard Carlson made “Don’t sweat the small stuff” a household phrase, Michael R. Mantell published the first self-help book with that title. Carlson didn’t repeat the full title word for word, but he came awfully close: Mantell’s book was called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: P.S. It’s All Small Stuff. Carlson’s subtitle is, … and It’s All Small Stuff.
(Another snippet: Copyright laws do not apply to titles. Anyone could self-publish a shoddy memoir about the aftermath of a tornado, and legally call it Gone with the Wind.)
And Mantell’s reaction upon learning another author had “recycled” his title to great success? According to the Amazon blurb for P.S.: “He took his own advice and chose to view this positively, celebrating the fact that more people were being reached with the advice he knew changed lives.”
Would that more of us did as well when circumstances attack our pride, plans or convenience. While we may affirm “it’s all small stuff” as a truism, in the heat of the moment few people can think of anything beyond life’s perceived unfairness at disappointing such a deserving person as “me.”
While few can avoid that initial reaction, trouble looms when our hurt decides to indulge itself further by:
- fantasizing about “getting even”
- thinking “always” or “never” thoughts (“it always happens to me” or “things never go right for me”)
- reviewing every other indignity we’ve suffered
- convincing us we have a right to feel sorry for ourselves because no one else cares or understands
And from “I have a right to feel sorry for myself,” it’s only a short step to “I have a right to do whatever makes me feel better,” and from there to substance misuse, addiction relapse—or becoming a depressed, surly “dry drunk” who supplements the “poor me” list with bitterness over not being “allowed” chemical relief
An objective look at that picture should convince anyone that “sweating the small stuff” is much more trouble than it’s worth.
Still, if you’re in addiction recovery—or have other experience struggling with ingrained habits—you know it takes more than “willpower” to get rid of cravings. Just saying “no” isn’t enough unless you have an alternative worth saying “yes” to.
“Celebrate” isn’t a bad word for a “yes”-based attitude toward life. You may not be able to celebrate everything that happens—and some happenings can’t be called “good” by any stretch of imagination—but you can always find more things to celebrate than to sulk about.
To make “celebrating life” an everyday thing:
- Never take anything for granted. Regularly say “thank you” to your Higher Power and your human benefactors—even your dog—for the joys they bring into your life.
- Practice being mindful of little things and letting all your senses speak to you. Walk slowly, inhaling deep breaths and really seeing your surroundings.
- Indulge yourself in small ways every day. Let a piece of dark chocolate dissolve on your tongue. Soak in a hot, scented bath. Pick flowers to put on your table.
- Conserve your emotional energy with regular breaks. On busy days, pause every hour and stretch, step outdoors or just daydream.
- Set a daily goal of eliminating “hurry” from your life.
To keep a “celebrating” attitude in the face of small annoyances:
- If you’re stalled in traffic or your appointment is late: Make productive use of the unexpected extra time. To be ready, carry a good book or an ideas-and-goals journal with you—or, if you’re driving, keep the audio equivalent handy.
- If something you were counting on gets cancelled: Again, have something productive to fill the newly freed time. You might even keep “use as needed” lists of half-hour tasks, one-hour tasks and two-hours-or-longer tasks.
- If someone else is visibly impatient or makes a demeaning comment: Remind yourself that it’s about them, not you. Consider disarming them by thanking them for their perspective or asking if it’s been a rough day. If nothing else, be thankful you aren’t the one behaving badly.
When something really “big” goes wrong:
- If you lose a promising opportunity, look objectively for information on what went wrong—and be thankful for the chance to learn ways you might improve.
- If you get a serious-illness diagnosis, remember that positive attitudes speed healing. Be doubly diligent in celebrating every day you’re given, and doubly thankful for the care you receive. Keep smiling at others, and stay interested in them.
- If you suffer a tragedy, sincerely thank everyone who supports you through it—preferably with written notes. Later, look for ways you can use the experience to help others in similar situations.
And when all else fails, find something to laugh about. As the old saying goes, “Don’t take this world too seriously—you won’t get out of it alive anyway.”
For more inspirational posts, to keep you motivated during recovery-life, check out Micah’s other posts: