October 14

The Little Things Matter: Five Little Ways to Spread Joy

Never underestimate the big importance of little things – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

A successful ad campaign based on little things

In 2012, Olivari Olive Oil, an international Olive Oil brand, decided to enter the already-competitive US olive oil market. To launch the brand in the US and increase its brand awareness, the ad agency Twofifteen McCann designed a creative social media campaign. They titled the campaign One year of little in keeping up with the theme of the company's trademarked slogan, "The little things are everything."

For a whole year, the marketing team uploaded a variety of content (photos, short documentaries, recipes, and even songs) onto Olivari Olive Oil's Facebook page, all centered around celebrating the little things in life. This included segments like "little things with super long domains"cinemographs of simple everyday moments such as the joys of popping a fresh sheet of bubble wrap or staying up a little longer to read one more chapter in a good book.

The campaign went viral and, before long, garnered a loyal social media fan-following. It wasn't hard to see why. The social media posts were quirky and unexpected, but most importantly, they lifted the audience's spirits. And the underlying message resonated with everyone: it is the little things that matter. Almost always.

Big and not-so-big goals

Stay in awe of life. The little things are the big things. It's a fundamental shift in personal identity and experiencing your world with joy. Richie Norton

Author, speaker, and popular management consultant Jim Collins coined the acronym BHAG (pronounced Bee-Hag), which stands for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. BHAG is the long-term vision everyone in an organization can understand and support. BHAG has gained popularity because corporate success is almost guaranteed when an entire company rallies behind a common goal.

Audacious goals aren't just for corporate entities, though. Even we, individuals, can benefit from BHAGs in our personal lives. Whether we aim to start and run a large business, nurture and foster a happy family or aspire to a bucket-list goal such as getting a front-row ticket to a Harry Styles concert (no judgment), big dreams are important in life. They help reset our GPS and point us in the right direction.

In the search for the big things, though, we often lose sight of the little things, the everyday joys and pleasures in life. It's sad because the big events in life are usually fleeting moments. A Harry Styles concert lasts between two to three hours tops, but the little things leading up to and after the show make up most of our life.

The little things

Like the difference between eulogy and resume values, by and large, it's the little, often unexpected things that can bring us and others the most joy. We just need to learn to recognize and appreciate the little things. Even better, though, is to do little things to spread joy to those around us because giving is infinitesimally more rewarding than receiving.

To get started, here are five simple little things that can bring out the warm fuzzies in life.

1. Give compliments. The right way.

I can live for two months on a good compliment – Mark Twain.

Compliments are genuine when they are specific. "You are the best" isn't as good as "Thank you for patiently listening to me vent for the last twenty minutes."

But compliments can also be tricky. There are more ways to do them wrong than right.

Telling someone, "You've been so reasonable and friendly throughout our collaboration," sounds great until you follow it up with, "Are you on new meds?" Remember the golden rule, "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing."

Finally, it helps to know your audience before you start heaping praise. Many (myself included) are raised to value modesty and can be uncomfortable when appreciated. So, if you see someone begin to turn every shade of crimson while you pile on the adulation, it's best to back off.

2. Lighten situations with humor

Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is. Francis Bacon.

The best way to deflect awkward situations is through humor. Preferably at ourselves. Self-deprecation in small doses goes a long way and has been scientifically proven to reduce situational anxiety.

At the 1987 Gridiron club dinner, President Reagan, in response to criticism of his work habits, said, "It's true that hard work never killed anybody, but I figure why take the chance."

Humor may not resolve a problem, but it certainly will help take the weight off and put everyone at ease.

3. Make others feel important

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel― Maya Angelou

A common trait among well-liked leaders is their ability to remember and recall specific little details about someone and follow up on those details in conversation. Yes, this requires a decent memory, but more importantly, it requires excellent listening skills. You are likely to remember small, insignificant (to you) details about someone only when you pay rapt attention to what they're saying.

Listening, remembering, and following up on minor details about your friends will make them feel important and special and that you care.

A disclaimer: psychopaths can be charming too.

Asking your colleague how their mother-in-law's surgery on Friday went shows genuine caring. But asking the colleague for post-surgery pictures of their mother-in-law? Odd. And creepy!

4. Leave good reviews

In 2016, a magazine published the following comment in their "Complaints" section from an unhappy reader.

"There are too many lengthy articles on overly scientific subjects that take up most of the magazine."

The magazine in question? Popular Science.

We often tend to be very vocal when we've been wronged or even perceive being wronged. On the contrary, it takes an extraordinary level of service for most of us to bother leaving good reviews.

We live in an economy where the service sector dwarfs manufacturing. Compared to the 1940s, when about a third of the US economy was involved in goods production, now just one in twelve jobs are in manufacturing, and the rest are in services. This means it's rare for us to go through days without dealing with customer service of some kind.

Maybe it's the volume of our interactions, but in the process, somehow, our civility seems to have taken a backseat. It's easy to forget there are other humans at the other end of our phone calls or IMs (once we're lucky enough to get past the bots).  

I'm not suggesting we answer every survey that comes our way, but letting someone (or their supervisors) know they did their job well costs us nothing but can mean a lot to them.

5. Pay it forward

The NY Times reported a story of how one 2012 December morning in Manitoba, a customer paid not just for her coffee but also the person behind her in line. Two hundred twenty-six customers in a row continued to do the same. The first person's generosity was contagious, and strangers were eager to help. It was a classic case of pay it forward.

The pay-it-forward philosophy is simple. When you are the recipient of a good deed, instead of thanking or paying back your benefactor, you instead do a good deed for someone else.

Gratitude helps strengthen our bonds with one another. And it has a domino effect. One good deed feeds another. And in the process, we can all stay a little truer to the "kind" part of humankind.


Little things matter. Possibly, even more than the big things.

Without little drops of water, there can be no mighty ocean.

When we start valuing the little things in life, we automatically become aware of the good things. All it takes is awareness and the desire to perform little acts of kindness.

If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room. The Dalai Lama.



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