Not too long ago I was talking to my sister, who is just about my favorite person in the world. She is one of the few people I know who is totally unafraid of being herself, which means that she laughs easily and boisterously and embraces her (rather numerous) eccentricities with zero shame. By making a few crucial changes in her life a few years back, she's become one of the most stable, mentally healthy, mellow, and dare I say it -- happy -- people I've ever met. When I'm not laughing with her, I'm in awe.
As a result, several months ago, I, the older sister, caught up in the latest maelstrom in my own life, called her and said, "Tell me how you do it. Tell me how you convince yourself that things are going to be okay."
She took a few seconds to think about it, and I prepared myself to receive some extremely profound advice. Then she said, "I try to focus on a few small things that I really enjoy."
I couldn't believe it. How many times have we heard "It's the little things"? It's as big a cliché as "live life to the fullest." She might as well have read me a passage from "Chicken Soup For The Soul."
But this was coming from my sister, and I was at that moment willing to do anything to feel even a wisp of the zen that seems to permeate her daily existence.
"Like what small things?" I asked, thinking silently, Please do not say bubble baths and candles because I will no longer trust that you hold the secret to the cosmos, and then where will I be?
"Like this flavored coffee I get in the morning at this place where they know me. Or a phone call to my friend Florence in New York, who I don't get to see often. And Lifetime movies. They're just hysterical."
"That's it?" Frankly, I'd expected something more cerebral. My sister is currently getting her masters in Latin American studies, focusing on the future viability of the nation state, or lack there of.
"I have all day to be intellectual," she said. "And I need that. But I need these things, too."
That sounded very similar to something Arianna said in a recent speech. She was talking about what she calls "joy triggers":
It's not enough to be productive, it's not enough to be successful, I need my joy triggers. Joy triggers are not rational. Bring them into your daily life, because I really believe that ... it's all a part of how we can bring balance into our life... getting joy from simple (but beautiful) things -- scents and sights and tastes.
She's right. And my sister, unsurprisingly, is right. It makes sense that human beings can't be "on" all the time, that a little bit of pleasure now and then helps you do the harder things in your life.
So why have I tended to resist the idea? Sometimes I think I'm so used to being stressed that I'm afraid of doing anything that would alleviate it. What would that be like, to take a little time to fully, deeply enjoy something? Instead I say things to myself like "Who has the time/money/patience for that???"
But then there was this product.
I should clarify that I am fundamentally opposed to spending $22 on any aspect of my beauty regimen, if you can even call it that. I don't go in for any dead sea firming exfoliating aromatherapy anti-aging alpha hydroxy antioxidant creams, scrubs, masques etc. But I read about this shower oil -- shower oil: perilously similar to bubble bath, right? -- that allegedly worked wonders on dry skin. I took home a sample and tested it out, and it was pretty much the most wonderful thing I've ever put on my body. It was almond scented, it worked better than advertised, and most importantly, the way I felt smoothing it on reminded me that I am capable of enjoyment, that I am separate from the aura of stress that often encircles me.
So in a totally out of character moment, I bought a whole bottle of the shower oil. And I have to admit, it is marvelous.
I'm not suggesting that joy triggers need to be material things -- far from it. The fact that I had to fork over a chunk of change for my joy trigger was the biggest barrier between me and it, and for good reason. A 2010 study found that wealthy people were less likely to find happiness in small things than the less affluent because, as Christopher Peterson wrote on PsychologyToday.com, "They have habituated to the smaller pleasures of life ... their happiness is likely attenuated unless they always spend top dollar." The more you're able to spend on joy triggers, it seems, the less joy they trigger.
One of my fall resolutions is to identify those small sources of joy in my life. To get myself started, I accosted people in our office, asking what their joy triggers are. Lori Leibovich, our Executive Women's Editor, said, "Riding my bike down hills -- something I almost never do, but when I'm doing it wonder why it's not part of my everyday routine because it makes me feel so good. And free." For Farah Miller, HuffPost Parents editor, it's this. Jessica Samakow, our Assistant Parents Editor: "A sale on top of a sale. Looove that." For our intern, Zeynep Lokmanoglu: "Chocolate and caramel, in any combination." Arianna says hers are "a cappuccino with one shot of espresso, two percent milk, and a green straw. Also pictures of my daughters when they were babies."
Now we want to know: What are the tiny things that bring you joy? Maybe yours come to mind instantly, or maybe none do, and it would be useful for you to take a minute to identify a few. We'd love for you to share them with all of us by tweeting #joytrigger @HuffPost Women. Who knows -- yours might work for someone else, and trigger in her some much-needed joy.
Follow Margaret Wheeler Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mwjohnso