Simple pleasures: how the long-lost art of small can transform your wellbeing

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Anna Brech
by Anna Brech
27 August 2021

In today’s hyper-busy world, we don’t put much value on “small”. Most of us work so hard that we don’t have time for an afternoon of pottering around, or having a coffee with a pal. Instead, we’re conditioned to want bigger, better and more.

This “Go! Go! Go!” mindset is not only unhealthy, it’s also way off the mark. Science shows that, when it comes down to it, happiness really does come in small packages. Little perks  – from a walk in the park to a lavish bubble bath – are great at taking the edge off. Without them, we’re less motivated, and less able to deal with stress. 

Here’s why small things can transform your life, and how to make the most of them with Virgin Red, the new rewards club from Virgin. 

Small things make us happier

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“Hedonic success” is a term that researchers use to describe how well people can embrace short-term pleasures. A study published by Swiss and German analysts last year found that people with higher levels of hedonic success are generally happier and more satisfied with their lives than those without it. 

Why? Participants in the experiment with a higher capacity for short-term enjoyment were better able to stay in the present. As Research Digest reports, these people had a more positive experience of small pleasures – for example, brunch with a friend, or a yoga class – because they focused on the immediate moment. 

In contrast, participants who were less able to concentrate on these little pleasures were less happy in general. Instead of staying fully in the moment, they suffered intrusive thoughts about long-term goals (e.g. “I can’t stop thinking about things I need to do”), which dented their overall wellbeing. 

Small things keep us motivated

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We tend to think that little pleasures – a full-fat cappuccino, say, or chatting with a friend during work hours – make us less productive. But actually, the opposite is true. 

“Small, repeated pleasures are the bread and butter of human happiness,” says happiness author Laura Vanderkam, as reported by Forbes. “Things like dinners out with friends, parties, enjoying a nice cup of coffee – all of these things are a key component of happiness, and they make us happy over and over again, so cutting them out is very painful because it requires self-discipline every single day.”

In other words, if we deprive ourselves of little perks, we lack the motivation we need to keep going with our bigger goals. That daily fight to “do things” suddenly gets much harder. 

Research led by Nicole Mead Ph.D., an associate professor at York University in Toronto, confirms this. Her 2016 study shows that simple pleasures, such as watching a movie or hanging out with a partner, have a powerful role to play in offsetting small annoyances: they keep us on-track with daily goals. 

“Pleasure brings positive feelings, which can give people the energy and perspective to confront and work through challenging goals,” Nicola explains. “[...] Simple pleasures infuse life with positive feelings which is vital for getting stuff done.” 

Small things make us more appreciative

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The saying “too much of a good thing” has a lot of truth to it. In a study from 2008, researchers Nelson & Meyvis found that participants who had a massage with a break midway through it enjoyed the experience more than those who were massaged continually.

The takeaway message? Pleasure has a shelf life. We quickly get used to new or fun experiences, and when we do, they lose their appeal. 

So doing lots of small, different things, is likely to make us happier in the long-run than doing the same pleasurable thing a lot – because after a while, the joy that you get from that activity flatlines. You adapt to it. Simple pleasures keep you appreciative. 

Discover your daily fix of small pleasures with Virgin Red

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All this research is music to our ears – since Virgin Red has a lot of rewards in the mix that revolve around simple pleasures. 

Take food, for example. As a Virgin Red member, you can get your hands on a Greggs sausage roll, a doughnut or a hot chocolate for just a few hundred points – each and every day. And let’s not forget a Saint Fragrance scented candle, a traditional afternoon tea for two or a session in the art of whisky tasting (it definitely is an art, trust us). 

Then there’s entertainment. For less than 10,000 points, you can land a three-month membership to the Rebel Book Club, or an escape room game for two with a Virgin Red voucher for Virgin Experience Days’ Amber Collection. 

Whether you love stand-up comedy, classic cars or a night at the cinema, Virgin Red has a perk with your name on. Our app is heaving with treasures, large and small, to make your life go with a swing. 

Have your thumbs at the ready for a scroll through the Virgin Red app or website (sign up here), with all the pint-sized pleasures you could possibly dream of. Because when it comes to some of our favourite things, small is often the happiest of them all.