A "Little Thing" (Very Little) That Makes Me Happy: the Gift Bag This Emotional Life - PBS

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Happiness / Blog

 Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin's Bio

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project.

A "Little Thing" (Very Little) That Makes Me Happy: the Gift Bag


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Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible," and I’m often struck by how much happiness I get from small, seemingly trivial aspects of my life.

Solving a nagging problem, even a very insignificant one, can bring me a sizable boost. One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Identify the problem, because once I recognize a problem, I can often identify a solution. Here’s an example.

I always felt slightly frustrated when wrapping presents. I didn’t do a neat, attractive job, but never wanted to put in the effort to wrap more prettily. (All that paper just gets ripped off, right?) I didn’t like the waste. The long rolls of wrapping paper are hard to store. I always forgot to buy seasonal paper when it was on sale.

Now, however, I use gift bags instead of wrapping, and it’s almost embarrassing to admit how much satisfaction I get out of my system. It’s so much quicker and easier; just pop the gift into a bag of the appropriate size and color, and I’m done.

I keep a drawer dedicated to nothing but gift bags and tissue paper – almost all of which are recycled. If anything comes into my house with nice tissue paper, I save it. Whenever I get anything in a nice gift bag, I add the bag to my collection – and gloat over my acquisition.

Now, when I give gift bags, I never write directly on the bag, in case the recipient is also a gift-bag re-reuser.

I recognize that in the context of a happy life, this is a trivial issue. A staggeringly trivial issue. And yet, this little thing makes a difference. The happiness I get from this system comes not from the relief of a terrible problem, but rather, the simplicity and perfection of the solution.

Have you found a quick, easy solution to a nagging problem like that – a “little thing” that gives you a disproportionate but real boost in happiness?