We spent our early years being read such tales with similar happy endings, so the concept of happiness is something great and eternal to us.

We all dream of the happy days that will hopefully follow a stressful period, preferably sooner rather than later. We expect something big to happen in the future, so we don’t even notice the little things around us that could make us happy now. Yet what if happiness in life is built around these small underappreciated things? What if it’s the accumulation of joyous moments that’s important, but we’re not even aware of them because we’re so focused on some big dream for the future?

On one cold winter morning, a sudden heavy downpour drenched the streets of Madrid as I made my way to my Spanish course. So, what do we normally do while driving? We’re usually immersed in our thoughts as usual, and when we notice the rain, we complain about the horrible weather and then return to our thoughts about the day’s meetings, the outstanding bills, and so on.

That morning, however, I stepped back from all the problems in my life for a short time. I chose to enjoy the moments of happiness that can come from out of the blue. I told myself, “I’m lucky to be in my warm car during such heavy rain. I’m bone dry and get to listen to awesome music to boot.”

And then I realized that life is really a mixture of stress, difficulty, and small moments of joy. It is important to accept the stress and difficulty as a normal consequence of life but also to be conscious of the small moments of happiness, even if they only last for a few seconds.

Even during our most difficult periods, such as when we’re in pain, we can have moments of happiness that we miss. As Khalil Gibran, one of my favorite authors, puts it so gracefully in his poem Joy and Sorrow, happiness and pain dance together.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,”

and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board,

remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

from Joy and Sorrow by The Prophet Khalil Gibran

So, what happens when we wear our best dress ten days in a row? Are we still equally excited on the tenth day, or do we get used to it? If we were continuously happy, would we even notice our happiness? We need pain to become aware of the happiness, and this is why joy and sorrow always dance together. Once we realize this, we can look at life from a very different perspective.

Since joy and sorrow dance together, being able to notice these moments of happiness enables us to focus on them and maybe even use them as short respites that allow us to recharge and get through difficult periods much more easily.

But how can we do this?

Let’s think about how we generally behave when we go through difficult times. We either tend to escape to the past and reminisce about the “good old times” or we dream of a future where we live “happily ever after.” Unfortunately, neither of these solutions fixes the problem in the present, because they are merely escapes from reality.

My recommendation is to face the pain and accept it as a natural part of life, but we should also balance it with appreciating the little things in life.

In other words, don’t focus just on the pain but notice and value the moments of happiness that come as a bonus.

The day of my mother’s funeral was one of the most painful of my life. It was not an unexpected passing, but can anyone really prepare themselves for the loss of a parent? When the moment to say goodbye arrived, was the pain any less for her being finally released from her suffering?

While immersed in this pain, however, I noticed the unusually beautiful sunshine for February. My heart was suddenly filled with joy at this wonderful farewell to my mother. I was also glad that so many people could come thanks to this mild winter weather.

I believe moments of happiness enter our lives even during the hardest periods. Let’s become aware of them, appreciate them, and enjoy them!