By using four simple steps to focus on the moments of joy in your life, you can increase your happiness quotient overall.
You may recall that I was reading the book Hardwiring Happiness, which holds that our brains developed in such a way that they ignore the good in favor of the bad, and that in order for us to hold onto good moments so that they actually become a part of our personal story, we have to do some work and pay attention to them. To that end, lately I’ve been making a point to be conscious of the small moments of joy so that I absorb them. I especially worked toward that awareness this past weekend, which was filled with lovely small experiences, the kind that, unfortunately, are too often easily forgotten.
“It is only possible to live happily ever after on a daily basis.” —Margaret Bonanno
Take Saturday. It was a gorgeous New England fall day, which is admittedly par for the course this time of year. What’s not typical? The early-summer temperature. My boyfriend and I (along with everyone else in the city) took advantage of that aberration and got outside to revel in our luck. The morning had been quite gray, and yesterday (Sunday) was also gray all day and then rainy too, so the gorgeous Saturday afternoon was a beautiful and very limited window of good weather. I tried to soak it in as we walked along the Charles River from Harvard Square, then into Central Square, along Mass Ave., then back to Harvard.
Here are a few things I savored: The light was absolutely beautiful on the water, and the sky was a Crayola Sky Blue, which was always my favorite color in the box. (This fall, the light has been especially amazing, and we’ve had sunsets that rival those you’ll see from the beach in the Los Angeles area. And that’s saying something.) Along the river, runners paraded past us, many dressed in the ubiquitous neon that’s now the rage. At the boathouse nearest Harvard Square, a girls’ rowing race had just finished; the girls milled about or stood at the food table, their flushed cheeks and happy faces testament to the joy of a hard and rewarding physical effort. In Central Square, my boyfriend got a cappuccino at 1369 Coffeehouse, and I went next door to the vegan cafe Life Alive for a yummy green juice (kale, celery, cucumber, ginger, lemon, wheatgrass). Then at the end of our walk, we got sandwiches at Darwin’s, an awesome sandwich shop that’s also a little market and bakery/coffeehouse. We took our food to sit on a bench in Longfellow Park, next to the statue of Longfellow, for a little impromptu picnic.
All of these moments were so nice, but as I mentioned, they were also small and easy to forget. Yet guarding against that natural tendency to forget is definitely worth the effort: Absorbing these little moments of joy can make you happier, more resilient, and more confident overall. Here are four steps to making that happen.
Release your tension.
Breathe in deeply, let your shoulders drop, and allow your body to relax. It’s easier to take in something good if you clear the way to receive it. In and of itself, breathing in slowly and deeply, with an especially long exhale will help you to relax and will help your body be more receptive to good things.
Notice the positive.
Bring to mind something positive (gratitude, memories of good times, an accomplishment) or notice the good experience you’re having right now. In my walk example, I noticed the gorgeous fall light, the color of the river, the healthy vibe of all the runners, the deliciousness of my green juice, and my delight at being in Life Alive, with it’s obvious celebration of vegetables, among other things. (I want to emphasize, however, that these steps apply not just to things outside of you, but also to the good things you do. For myself, it’s much easier to notice natural beauty or goodness in others than it is to congratulate myself for a job well done, so I need to work on noticing more about my own good works and accomplishment, but I suspect I’m not alone in that!)
Stay with the positive feelings, and build on them.
Breathe in the experience, turn it over in your mind for five to 10 seconds longer, think about its relevance to your life, notice additional details, and so on. In other words, don’t simply let that moment of joy slip through your consciousness; instead, give it additional roots to make it easier to “plant.”
Concentrate on absorbing the experience.
Imagine that this good experience is filling up your body, making it glow with warmth. See your face suffused with happiness. Know that this good experience is becoming part of you, and that you can call on it as necessary.
Of course, you can’t walk around 24/7 mooning over the beauty of the day, your coworker’s helpfulness, or your amazing multitasking skills, but slowing down often enough to build up your stores of positive experiences can go a long way to making you happier overall.
How about you? What moments of joy have you savored lately?