Petits Bonheurs or Small Pleasures

Updated: Sep 24

There is a saying in french that goes:

"La vie est faite de petits bonheurs." which literally translates as "Life is made of small pleasures."

As someone who is working (read: stumbling) her way through learning to speak French, I often come across these little snippets of French wisdom in books or films and attempt to dissect them to enhance my understanding. It seems the French frequently have a simple, yet deeply philosophical, way of summing up life and their approach to it, with these basic little sayings. Most of us would be familiar with the popular phrase C'est la vie - That's life. When you start looking, you will find many French sayings about life well lived, the secret of happiness and even (more grimly) the path to death but I feel what we could all use right now, more than ever, is the abundance of wisdom encapsulated in these few words: "Life is made of small pleasures."

The consumerist society most of us exist within might have us believe the exact opposite - the best things in life are the big, grand, expensive pleasures. The new car, the fancy jewellery and the latest tech. If you've seen any advertising lately (pretty hard to miss it) or been spending time on social media, you probably cant help but believe that your happiness is inextricably linked to your your financial worth, your material possessions or how many big pleasures you have amassed in your life. You might have been indoctrinated into the school of thought that lifelong pleasure might be derived from the number of followers you have, the size of your house or the flashiness of your last vacation. Well, it's time to put our berets on, embrace our inner French philosopher and rethink those ideas. Let's try, shall we?

Have we been so distracted searching for BIG pleasures that we fail to notice the small ones?

If you were to sit back and ponder, I mean actually turn off the tv, put down your phone and quietly contemplate the last 10 or even 20 years of your life, where would you say the majority of sensations of true pleasure have come from, for you? Sure, buying a new car felt great at the time, but how did that compare to the pleasure of hearing your child giggle for the first time, and then relishing every giggle after that? That tiny little pleasure repeated daily would surely mount up to far greater pleasure than that fleeting 'new car' feeling. I'm sure the expensive overseas holiday was lovely and felt extremely pleasurable for a while, but can it compete with the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of everyday pleasures experienced in your home, maybe around the dinner table, laughing and making memories with friends and family over the years? How does the single pleasure of scoring that big promotion measure up against all of the small pleasurable times you've marvelled at a stunning sunset?

Our current conundrum is that we've become accustomed to seeking out the BIG pleasures. Big pleasures, to me are the very occasional (but usually spectacular) pleasures which often come with a high cost; either in time, effort or money. It's not to say that those pleasures aren't valid or shouldn't be treasured, but we've grown so fixated on pursuing the big pleasures that unfortunately, we've stopped noticing all of these deliciously gorgeous tiny pleasures that when cobbled together make up the bulk of our life. We've taken our eye off the abundance of small joys that are right there in front of us, because we're too busy searching the horizon for the next big one.

If you were to lower your focus and look at what is right in front of you on a daily basis, what small pleasures have you stopped noticing lately? What about the exquisite velvety taste of chocolate eaten slowly and savoured? What about the cosy gratification brought about by curling up in front of a fire on a cold evening? Consider the heavenly scent and richness of colours which blooming spring flowers bring or the treat of walking through crunchy brown leaves as fall sets in? When was the last time you really took notice of the pure bliss of sliding into a warm bath or a cool pool, the delight from hearing your favourite piece of music or the comfort of a loved one tucking their arm in yours? The aroma of freshly brewed coffee, the satisfaction of finishing good book, the sensation of an unstoppable deep belly-laugh, the loyal connection with a pet, the sumptuousness of juice running down your chin as you bite into a juicy peach? These are just a few of the infinite amount of small pleasures that fit together to make up our days and years. They are the simple tiny moments of joy that we sadly fail to recognise or acknowledge because we are too consumed by searching out the grand pleasures.

I have a feeling that if we make time to look back, we'll come to realise that these seemingly insignificant joys, when stitched together, make up the bulk of the pleasure we experience and are the fundamental contributors to a what we might regard, in the end, as a contented and happy life. And I have a feeling that the French might have known this all along, hence their clever saying.

So as you go now to move through your day and your week, consider changing your focus to notice the everyday small and simple pleasures and sensations to embrace the french saying: -"La vie est faite de petits bonheurs," because really, that is what life is made of.

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