Linda Lewis Griffith

Sweating the small stuff

I’ve been recycling grocery bags for decades.

I keep cloth bags in my car and take them with me whenever I shop. I don’t harbor any fantasies that I’m single-handedly changing the world. But my little recycling efforts pay big dividends in how I feel.

Doing little things makes us feel powerful. We take our lives into our own hands and do what each of us thinks is best. The steps we take may be tiny: signing a petition, donating a pint of blood or participating in a beach cleanup isn’t monumental. Still, it engenders a sense of control that extends far beyond the behavior itself.

Doing little things make us feel good. The vast majority of us like to do what’s right. We’re constantly looking for ways to be of service. Whether we’re sending a get-well card to a friend who’s just had surgery or buying enchiladas at a local fundraiser, we like pitching in and doing our fair share. Taking tiny actions reinforces that do-good desire while improving ourselves and communities at the same time.

Little things add up. They have the potential to make a huge difference. If everyone on the planet reused their shopping bags we’d eliminate an estimated 42 billion plastic bags each year and save the many barrels of oil that are used to manufacture the bags.

It’s not that I don’t think about the big problems. It’s just that I get easily overwhelmed. I listen to news about the war, global warming and the shortage of the H1N1 vaccine. I’m terribly concerned. But I can’t do anything about these massive problems. My efforts fall pitifully short.

Heck, it’s hard enough managing ourselves. Obesity, addiction and marital discord are devastating on an individual and family level. Yet these, too, seem insurmountable. People’s lives are often out of control.

That’s when I go back to the little things, the things I can do something about. They’re the parts of my day where I can exert the most control. I’m convinced they’re the way I can make the biggest contribution. And doing them makes me feel good.

Sometimes I fantasize about achieving on a grander scale. I admire folks who start schools in third-world nations or who devote their careers to find a cure for AIDS. I’d love to win a Nobel Prize for a great accomplishment. Or donate millions of dollars to a literacy campaign.

It’s not that I feel inadequate. I’ve done OK with my life. My children are grown and productive. I’ve counseled hundreds of couples, individuals and families. My writing has been published continually for 30 years.

I think my strength has been taking care of the little things.

I show up for work ready to treat my clients. I’m pleasant to my husband. I don’t drink too much alcohol. I eat appropriate amounts of healthy food. These behaviors won’t earn me a standing ovation. But when I pay attention to the little things, the big things take care of themselves.

The little things mean a lot

Need help managing the little things in your life?

Start with these suggestions:

• Identify areas that create problems. Perhaps you sneak too many cookies in the break room or your desk is one huge trash pile. Zeroing in on the difficulty focuses energy toward getting it solved.

• Analyze one specific behavior that will help you address your concern. Have you been meaning to get in shape but have a gym bag full of excuses? Decide to start walking 15 minutes during your lunch. You'll have less time to overeat and you'll feel invigorated during the day.

• Enlist the help of friends. Find like-minded souls willing to join you on your path. You'll be more accountable if others depend on your participation. And you'll feel loved and supported as you cheer each other on.

• Give back as you are able. Donate a nickel to a holiday bell ringer. Buy canned goods for a food drive. Even the littlest contribution pays long-range psychological benefits.

• Honor your passions. We all have issues that light our personal fires. Some of us walk dogs at the animal shelter. Others collect jackets for low-income families. Still others grow organic produce. Notice in which direction your heart leads you, then make a difference as only you can.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit