There is a tremendous quote attributed to the late, great author and poet Maya Angelou which declares,

‘I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.’

I like these three random items a lot – they provide a handy and instant Happiness Litmus Test as to our general happiness set point – are we a glass half full or a glass-half-empty kind of person?

Happiness is a temporal sensation, and if we want to feel happy more often we have to keep finding reasons to keep happiness present, and not get knocked off course by the inevitable small stuff that comprises a life. Some people will find that the small stuff not going as expected will derail their entire day. Others can seem to deal with the bad thing but press the reset button after it’s done, and keep seeking things to feel good about as they move through the rest of their day. They stop the downward spiral into A Bad Day before it even starts. Knowing what our habitual patterns are, and if they serve us, is so powerful, which is why these three ordinary happenstances are such great check-in questions:

Do we choose to be deliberately cheerful about a rainy day, seeing it as an unexpected chance to catch up on some house chores, or explore an art gallery or have fun at the laser quest? Or are we bummed and restless that the planned picnic is off the cards and why is it always raining at the weekend?

Do we manage our emotions when we get that sinking feeling that our bag is just not going to appear on the luggage carousel, and follow it through courteously with the staff at the lost luggage? Or do we rant and rave and say it’s spoiled the whole holiday, and this kind of thing always happens to me, and the airline is blatantly useless?

Do we patiently try each bulb trying to reignite the sparkle of the Christmas lights to eventual success / calmly give it up as a bad job and a fantastic opportunity to upgrade the lights to something newer and sparklier, or, do we swear and cuss our way through trying to fix them, blame the person who obviously didn’t put them away properly last year, and generally bring no goodwill to all men as we try and make them work, goddamit?

How we handle a small thing can be indicative of how we handle a big thing.

If we lose our temper over something as small as the Chrimbo lights, then this often translates into how we handle the bigger stresses in life. We all know the lost luggage, the lights, the rain, are all fairly inconsequential happenings, but our emotional response to them is an excellent indicator as to how we will deal with the big stuff when it hits. How we will deal with redundancy; or financial worry or family drama or moving house. If we sweat the small stuff big time, we are far more likely to drown in stress and negativity with the larger life challenges.

Life is full of challenges. Big ones, small ones, some we expect, some out of the blue. That’s an inescapable fact, and participation is not optional! This Happiness Litmus test is such a great way to explore ourselves as our own experiment with curiosity rather than judgement. Observe how we deal with the small stuff. See if we can make that a little easier on ourselves and the people around us. Figure out strategies that allow us not to sweat the small stuff so much, and so to glide through each ordinary day with more ease and grace. Then, when the big storms of life blow in, as they inevitably will, we will be better equipped to handle them.

Now…where are those fairy lights?