Our daily responsibilities and worries weigh us down, making us tune out the spontaneous events that could bring us deeper joy and greater health.
A substantial body of related research indicates that people with a sunnier outlook recover more quickly from illness and live longer—7 1/2 years on average, according to a large Yale University study—than people who have bleaker views.
Yet it’s a skill that few people have mastered, says Loyola University Chicago social psychologist Fred B. Bryant, PhD. The reason is simple: We’re busy, and we have a lot on our minds.
But here’s how to discover pleasure and satisfaction in everyday moments, even when life isn’t exactly cooperating:
1. Share Your Happy Thoughts
Let your children know how great it feels to spend the day with them. Brag to your spouse about the unexpected compliment your boss paid you. Sharing happy memories and experiences with others—or even simply anticipating doing so—is one of the most powerful and effective ways to prolong and magnify joy, Bryant’s research shows. “It helps sustain emotions that would otherwise fade,” he says. Also, affirming connections with others is the glue that holds people together.
2. Build Solid Memories
Do you love your red wool scarf because it’s chic and cozy, or because its smell reminds you of your childhood romps in the snow? Recall vivid, specific events, and pinpoint what brought you joy. Don’t overanalyze! Instead, think about your experiences just enough to appreciate how they’ve helped form you and then get back to simply living them.
3. Be Proud Of You
If you spent a year sweating at the gym to reach a fitness goal, bask in your new jeans size—and share your success with others. Self-congratulation doesn’t come easily to everyone. “A lot of people have trouble basking in an accomplishment because they feel that they shouldn’t toot their own horns or rest on their laurels,” Bryant says. It’s a fine line between joyous self-congratulation and shameless self-promotion, but don’t worry: You’ll know if you’re crossing it.
4. Fine Tune Your Senses
Close your eyes while you roll a square of dark chocolate over your tongue or fill your lungs with salty sea air or eavesdrop on your grandchildren’s play and laughter. Shutting out some sensory stimuli while concentrating on others can heighten your enjoyment of positive experiences—particularly those that are short-lived.
5. Compare Downward
Instead of wishing for things you don’t have (yet), think about how things could be worse—or how things used to be worse. Keep it light—you don’t have to relive a scary health diagnosis or revel in a neighbor’s job loss. Simply take note: Is today sunnier than the weather report predicted? Did you finish off that work project more quickly than you thought you would?
6. Get Absorbed
Listen to your favorite music with headphones in a dark room. Lose yourself in a novel you just can’t put down. Set aside enough time on the weekend for your favorite hobby so you can attain a level of absorption known as the “flow” state.
7. Act Like You’re Happy
Putting on a happy face—even if you don’t feel like it—actually induces greater happiness, says Bryant. So be exuberant. Don’t just eat the best peach of the season; luxuriate in every lip-smacking mouthful. Laugh out loud at a funny movie. Smile at yourself when you pass by a mirror.
8. Make The Most Of Meaningful Moments
Some positive events come and go quickly. It seems obvious that the more quickly a positive experience evaporates, the more difficult it is to savor. Yet Bryant has found that reminding ourselves of how time is fleeting encourages us to seize positive moments while they last.
9. Don’t Indulge In Glass-Half-Empty Thoughts
The world has enough pessimists. When you find yourself awash in happiness, give it space to grow—don’t ruminate about why you don’t deserve this good thing, what could go wrong, how things could be better. Consciously make the decision to embrace joy.
10. Say “Thank You” More Often
Cultivate an “attitude of gratitude,” Bryant says. Pinpoint what you’re happy about—a party invitation from a new pal, a seat on a crowded subway—and acknowledge its source. It’s not always necessary to outwardly express gratitude, Bryant notes, but saying “thank you” to a friend, a stranger, or the universe deepens our happiness by making us more aware of it.
Always remember: The sun will continue to rise!