We hear it over and over: It’s the little things that count. Turns out the cliché is dead-on. Research shows that one of the most important secrets to a happy life is to relish the many small moments that bring delight—ones you may not even notice. When you start calling attention to them, your mind becomes more inclined toward joy, explains Chade-Meng Tan, a Google engineer turned happiness guru and the author of Joy on Demand. "Over time, joy and happiness become increasingly effortless," he says. The best part? Getting there is ridiculously easy.
Week 1: Take note
Think of sinking your teeth into your favorite dessert or that moment in the shower when the hot water first touches your skin—“any fleeting moments of joy in life that are not super intense,” says Tan. This week, start picking up on them. “All you have to do is notice the joy and bring attention to the pleasantness,” he explains.
Be here now. Focus on the bite-size pleasures already in your day. “After a number of times, a habit will form,” says Tan.
Live out loud. Being vocal when something delights you will help you revel in the moment, says happiness researcher Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Let out a “mmm” after your delicious first sip of coffee in the a.m., for instance. “My family makes fun of me because every time I get in bed, I involuntarily make this ‘ahhh’ noise, but it feels so good to slide between the sheets,” says Rubin.
Start a one-sentence journal. Every day, jot down a single cheery thought. “Your sentence can be about anything—something beautiful, hilarious, whatever,” says Rubin. “It keeps you accountable without making happiness feel like a chore.”
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Week 2: Find hidden happy moments
Now you’re ready to discover less obvious delights. These rituals will get you going.
Get camera happy. Every day, snap a picture on your smartphone of something that makes you happy. “This way, you’re watching out for the things that bring you pleasure; it keeps you in joy-seeking mode,” says Rubin.
Brighten up. Choose a color and try to spot it all day (your favorite green sweater, the green pen at your desk). "There is a ton of research linking color and happiness," says Rubin, “and it’s so easy to take in color from the world."
Reframe the negative. You know those things that usually sour your mood? Try turning them into treats. Maybe you hate getting up when it’s dark out. "You have to wake up either way,” says Rubin, “so look for the parts that are nice, like how you love the quiet of your kitchen in the morning when it’s just you."
Week 3: Practice joy on command
Little bits of pleasure can give you a lift even when you’re feeling seriously down, says Tan: “A bad mood is like being in a dark room, while those little moments of joy are like candles.” Make your own light when you need it this week with these strategies.
Play your psych-up song. One of the quickest ways to boost your mood is to listen to upbeat music, research has shown. “It’s like dialing happiness 911,” says Rubin.
Jump around. Do explosive movements for a few seconds. “I always tell people who need a pick-me-up to do 10 jumping jacks,” says Rubin. “It’s childish, it’s playful, and it gets you pumped up right away.”
Spread some cheer. On a crappy day, randomly select a few people walking by and secretly send positive vibes. “Just think, ‘I wish for that person to be happy,’” says Tan. “Being on the giving end of a kind thought is rewarding. You’ll be happier than you were five seconds ago.”