Hedonomics II: The Little Things

It’s not all economics, with respect to (the aforementioned) Laureates Sen and Stiglitz. It can be as simple as finding daily rituals. Make the bed. Plant a garden. It’s a start. Gretchen Rubin knows. Rubin’s The Happiness Project was deeply informed by a woman she now considers her “spiritual master,” Saint Therese of Lisieux.


One thing that drew Rubin to Therese was the Saint’s rigorous focus on finding meaning in “little things,” and as Rubin—a former Editor of the Yale Law Review, not afraid of rigorous analysis—concludes, it is the little things that matter most. In her interview with Big Think, Rubin shares her views on everything from how to develop resolutions to the diverse uses of blogs and books.

“What is happiness?” is not a question Rubin is looking to answer, ironically. Rather, she is concerned with the state of being happy, and being happy is possible only when we have a clear sense of what we feel. Rubin has read widely, and one of her conclusions is immediately actionable: know yourself.

Rubin’s analysis allows for consideration of the academic aspects of happiness including The Arrival Fallacy, The Hedonic Treadmill, The Atmosphere of Growth. But, perhaps more compellingly, she allows us to think about the simple things that fill our daily lives, and how to shift our perceptions of them so as to make them more meaningful. Friends. Lovers. Peers. One of her most provocative notes relates to intellectual interaction. “It actually takes more social courage to be enthusiastic,” she observes.

Consider the “little things” of Saint Therese:

She loved flowers and saw herself as the "little flower of Jesus," who gave glory to God by just being her beautiful little self among all the other flowers in God's garden. Because of this beautiful analogy, the title "little flower" remained with St. Therese.

Her inspiration and powerful presence from heaven touched many people very quickly. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925. Had she lived, she would have been only 52 years old when she was declared a Saint.

"My mission - to make God loved - will begin after my death," she said. "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses." Roses have been described and experienced as Saint Therese's signature. Countless millions have been touched by her intercession and imitate her "little way." She has been acclaimed "the greatest saint of modern times." In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Therese a Doctor of the Church - the only Doctor of his pontificate - in tribute to the powerful way her spirituality has influenced people all over the world.

Rubin’s message is not centered on religion, or even spiritualism, but it is grounded in Little Things. This truth is seductive because it is actionable. It’s not a Porsche. It cannot be bought.

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