Learning to love the little things

It’s the little things, the small daily pleasures, that really keep us going, says Anna Barter, as he explores how microjoys make us happier, healthier and more resilient…

What does joy feel like to you? Pure, unbridled, simple joy? Perhaps the sun warming your face after a long winter? Or a moment to breathe in the fresh, dewy air as you leave the house in the morning? People experience joy differently, and for different reasons, but we all feel it – and it can be found all around us in the small, daily things, the little pleasures of life, the microjoys. Experiencing joy has been shown to have physical and mental health benefits, boosting the immune system and reducing stress. Some experts even believe it could help us to live longer. It’s difficult to define, but there’s something deeply spiritual about small daily microjoys.

Regardless of our individual beliefs, it provokes the sensation of being part of something bigger than ourselves. Imagine the feeling of looking up at a sky filled with stars, so vast it takes your breath away: that’s joy. Awe. Wonder. Brené Brown describes it as ‘the good mood of the soul… an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure and appreciation’.

The wonderful thing about joy is that – be it fleeting and transient or deep and long-lasting – it is always, unfailingly, heart-lifting. While happiness can seem elusive, moments of joy transcend personal circumstance and can be accessed by us all, anytime we feel it. Even during dark times, there is always joy to be found in a day, once we know where to look – and if we can learn to harness those ‘micro joys’, they have the power to transform the mundane into the magical.

More than this, the ability to notice and appreciate tiny, everyday moments of joy could be the key to a happier life: after all, the small moments and the little things add up to a lifetime in the end.

‘Sprinkling small daily microjoys throughout our life has the power to transform the ordinary into extraordinary,’ says chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey. ‘Whether it’s taking the time to savour the smell and taste of your morning coffee, to that feeling of awe you get as you look up at the stars – even if you’re simply taking out the bins – these moments are incredibly powerful.’

If we’ve learned nothing else over the past few years, we have a renewed appreciation for the simpler things in life. A hug with a friend, a walk in the sunshine, a delicious meal… we all came to view these in a new light – moments of contentment punctuating endless months of strange isolation. And it’s a practice that lots of people have tried to carry forward as we slip back into more recognisable times.

‘Increasing your appreciation for the ordinary magic all around you helps to boost your mood and increase contentment,’ says Hallissey. ‘When you take the time to notice and drink in these moments, you slow down time and come into the present moment. These tiny acts of mindful awareness help to reduce stress as you slow down, just for a moment.’

For those of us who struggle with structured mindfulness practice such as meditation, unable to switch of our racing thoughts, small daily microjoys are perfect.

Even the very busiest among us can take notice of the things we do routinely and unconsciously – slowly pushing the percolator down on a cafetière, taking a deep breath of fresh air on our walk to work – and transform them into a micro joy.

For me, it’s all about that first cup of tea in the morning, or a hot shower after a long day. Slowing down and relishing the feeling of the warm water running down me, breathing the steam into my lungs, I feel my cares melting away, even if it’s just for a moment, before I step out into my life again. And since I’ve discovered that I’m able to take such pleasure from the simple things I do each day, I find myself looking forward to these tiny moments, creating what researchers describe as a positive ‘upward spiral’ of contentment.
Joy is also known to increase resilience. Safe in the knowledge that tiny, beautiful moments are ahead, even the toughest of times can seem more manageable.

We can’t always allow time for long self-care rituals. But if we can begin to bring more awareness into our daily habits, we can start to build regular moments of gratitude, resilience and optimism and weave them throughout our everyday routines.

To get started, Hallissey recommends ‘picking one or two activities you do regularly and slowing down to savour the sensory experience’. For example, ‘Create a ritual out of your morning and drinking your first cup of tea. Or focus on the scent of your lavender pillow spray right before you fall asleep. The more you do this, the more you will begin to see the ordinary magic all around you, which will bring profound benefits to your wellbeing.’

To quote W. B. Yeats, ‘The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.’ Slow down and take time to notice how your body feels, what makes your soul sing. Your most joyful life is out there waiting for you.

Next: Improving your relationship with your body

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