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 happy 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