Monday, February 9, 2009

Doing Ordinary Things Extraordinarily Well

"Small-but-frequent rewards are more effective than large one-time rewards."
(Joel Kotkin, M.D., author of "How to Change Your Spouse and Save Your Marriage")

Dr. Kotkin's observation about small-but-frequent rewards is something that has been demonstrated over and over in psychological experiments. In essence, people are happier when a lot of little things go well on a daily basis, than when one really good thing happens once in a great while, with nothing good in between.

This is true even when the big reward is greater, in totality, than the sum of all the small rewards. In playing a $1.00 lottery game, for example, most people would be happier winning $2.00 every day of the year, than winning nothing for 364 days and then $1,000 on a single day. In fact, if you win nothing too many times in a row, you'll probably stop playing entirely---a fact well known to the casino industry, which wants people to stay glued to their chairs at the slot machines hour after hour.

OK, but what does this have to do with relationships? Quite a bit, actually. To keep any relationship stimulating after the initial rush of emotions has subsided, we need to do a lot of little things on a regular basis. We need to pay more attention to the other person. We need to give little compliments; offer words of encouragement, sympathy, and appreciation; and promptly reward efforts or achievements---no matter how small those efforts or achievements may be. We need to smile more and complain less. We need to touch each other often, and let it be known that we're enjoying our life together, even when life is hard.

To be sure, we need to celebrate the once-a-year events: the birthdays, the anniversaries, the religious holidays, Valentine's Day. But we should try to extend these celebrations in little ways. We can, for example, give small gifts that say, "This made me think of you." Or we can take out picture albums that remind us of happy events we've shared, or look through travel brochures that stimulate our fantasies and help to reinforce the idea that we have a future---an enjoyable future---together. We don't have to go broke doing these things, nor do we have to disrupt our schedules to find the time to do them. We can work them into our life every day, seamlessly.

When you come right down to it, life consists of a lot of little things, a lot of ordinary things, along with a sprinkling of big things. If you concentrate on doing those ordinary things extraordinarily well, the big things will probably take care of themselves. And you'll always have a reason to celebrate, even when the calendar doesn't say it's a holiday.