During the cold days of winter and facing the difficult realities that many of us face every day, it is difficult to feel the zest for life. But while you may not be able to control the season or the challenges that arise, experts say you can work on increasing the joy in your life to help overcome the gloom.
The main way to do this is through small, everyday moments — what some experts call “micro-actions.” The idea came from the people behind The Big Joy Project, a joint effort between researchers at the University of California, the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, and the documentary filmmakers who made the film “Mission: Joy.”
The Big Joy Project created a global, web-based study that challenges people to take part in 7-minute joyful micro-actions. While it’s not a clinical term, “pleasant microactions are small activities or exercises or practices taken from the scientific literature on so-called positive psychology interventions,” says Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, science director at the Center for Better Science.
These micro-actions are “exercises or activities or practices that have been shown to result in improvements in skills that are important for experiencing more joy in life, or simply changing the proportion of experiences a person may have on a given day. more conducive to joy,” Simon-Thomas said.
After practicing micro-acts of joy for a week — that is, seven minutes a day for seven days — people’s happiness, peace of mind and well-being increased by 25.59%, according to Peg Callahan, producer and co-director of “Mission: Joy.”
Below, experts share examples of fun micro-actions and reasons to add them to your daily life:
1. Remain silent in awe.
Simon-Thomas says one kind of fun little act is to put yourself in a position of fascination. “That’s how we feel when we are in the presence of something vast and extraordinary that challenges our ordinary, everyday thinking,” he said.
This can include being outdoors, enjoying uninterrupted views of the sea, or the hills. “Research on awe shows that people who spend more time outdoors or in highly creative contexts where they experience awe-filled emotional experiences have benefited, despite the fact that it is pleasurable,” Simon-Thomas explain.
Research shows that when someone feels awe, their sense of humanity decreases, making them more likely to be generous, Simon-Thomas said.
2. Celebrate other people’s happiness.
Listening to what experiences bring happiness to those around you can be a small act of joy.
“It comes from a practice that in scientific circles is called capitalizing on positive events, and the idea is to start a conversation with other people about what’s going well in their lives or something they’re proud of or something that inspires them, Simon-Thomas explains.
For the best sense of excitement, ask detailed questions that intentionally move the conversation forward.
“The point is to recognize the joy we derive from connecting with others through positive experiences and moments,” adds Simon-Thomas.
3. Make a gratitude list.
There’s a reason why mental health professionals often recommend gratitude lists.
“We know that when people practice gratitude, they feel less self-centered, they feel a little more warm and fuzzy and optimistic and they often attribute that to the efforts and presence of other people in their lives,” Simon-Thomas said.
Tim Bono, professor of psychology and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, added that the practice of gratitude is also one of the basics of positive psychology.
“There are a lot of things that draw our attention to negative things – and there’s a lot of negative things in this world (and) we have to pay attention to those things – but make sure it’s balanced by taking time to be grateful for those things. the. it’s still going well,” said Bono, who is not affiliated with The Big Joy Project.
Otherwise, we can easily get caught in a cycle of bad news. This can increase your natural negativity bias, the cycle of looking for all the bad things in the world, Emma Mahony, a therapist at A Better Life Therapy in Philadelphia, previously told Talk News.
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Making a gratitude list is a simple way to create micro-acts of happiness in your life.
4. Engage in random acts of kindness.
“We encourage people to try doing random acts of kindness, so pick a specific day (and) imagine what you can do to shine a bright light on someone else,” Simon-Thomas said.
You can do this for strangers, neighbors, or close friends; An act of kindness can be anything from opening a door for someone at work, making banana bread for a neighbor, or donating to a cause you believe in, she says.
“If we set intentions and write those things down and then act on them on a given day, there’s a lot of evidence that those acts of kindness are just as beneficial on a neurobiological level as getting a reward or benefit or advantage for ourselves,” Simon-Thomas said.
5. Do a little self-reflection.
Another fun micro-action? Reflect on how you can support or uplift others, says Simon-Thomas.
Often, we underestimate our own abilities by telling ourselves that we can’t do anything to help others, or that we’re useless – which is the wrong perspective, he says.
“There are usually several ways in which people can approach a situation or contribute, if not to the situation in front of them, in other ways that can counteract the situation,” Simon-Thomas said.
These mindfulness reflections can help change your perspective and remind you that you can do good in the world.
6. Think about your values.
According to Simon-Thomas, “when we act in accordance with our values, in what is most meaningful and aligned with our goals… we feel better as people.”
It’s important to reflect on your values and write about what is most important to you. Maybe it’s spending time with family, practicing religion, caring for animals in need, or advocating for at-risk communities in your area – there are no wrong answers here. Your values are unique to you.
“At the end of the day, doing something that you feel like the work you’re doing or the effort you’re putting into the world has to do with something more than just yourself, whether that’s spending time with other people or spending time with an aligned organization. with your interests or values. This will give you the greatest return in terms of your investment of time and effort,” says Bono.
7. Prioritize your relationships with others.
“If we had to reduce all of positive psychology to a single data point, it would be about the strength of our relationships with other people,” says Bono.
Connect with as many people as possible. “If you have to make a choice between spending extra time at work every night of the week or once in a while closing your laptop and making friends and going out and strengthening the bonds you have with them, make sure you balance it so that you really prioritize your connections with people other things,” added Bono.
Plus, your social connections will come in handy during your ups and downs.
“Other people help us prolong good days and optimize happiness from them. And they also help us survive through difficult times,” said Bono.
Focusing on seemingly small moments of happiness is important for a lifetime of happiness.
Although Bono isn’t familiar with the term “pleasant micro-actions,” he says the idea is well-documented in research.
“I think a lot of times when people think about what would make them happy or happy, they think about big things that only happen once,” explains Bono. This could mean saving for a big two-week vacation, buying a house, or getting a raise at work.
“We assume we’ll do this one thing and then we’ll be happy, but in reality, when you look at the research, there’s this idea of hedonic adaptation. There’s this notion that no matter what we do… things are interesting at first, but eventually they fade, because we as humans can adapt. “We got used to life very quickly,” said Bono.
But we don’t adapt to every aspect of life, he said. One of those aspects? Minor and chronic conditions of daily living.
“Now, it can be a two-way street – we don’t adapt to difficult coworkers, we don’t adapt to a very stressful commute to work every day because it’s chronic and volatile,” Bono said. “But, on the other hand, I like the idea of micro-acts of joy because if we can make joy a chronically changing state of life … over time, they will accumulate into a lifestyle of joy and happiness.”
When these joy-inducing behaviors, like opening the door for someone or smiling at a stranger at the grocery store, become part of your lifestyle, it can lead to a sustained increase in our overall joy and positive impact, Bono says.
Life is not meant to be fun. But focusing on the joys of life can prepare you for the more difficult days.
“The idea that the pursuit of happiness isn’t about being happy all the time… we’re going to go through high points and low points, and just as it’s important to know how to pursue happiness and joy, it’s also important to know how to pursue happiness and joy. acknowledge that there will be some downs along the way,” said Bono.