We have within us the power to cultivate positive emotions and experiences in our everyday lives. We have the power to develop joy in ourselves in simple yet profound ways.
So often we look to the big events in our lives to make us happy: marriage; career; family; home. But the reality is that the smaller, everyday experiences in our lives hold much greater potential to create a transformation in ourselves.
All we need to do is learn how to look. We are surrounded by wonderful and beautiful experiences all the time but the problem is that we are not fully alive to them. Or we have forgotten how to see them.
We all possess this innate ability to wonder at the magic of the world as children – the problem is that familiarity and habituation deadens our ability to be amazed and filled with joy at the ordinary things in the world around us. As we grow older we develop, what the philosopher Henri Bergson called, a ‘poverty of perception’.
But we can choose instead to enrich our perception. We do this by intentionally seeking out experiences that create positivity and joy in us. The simplest way to do this is to bring our attention to the present moment and train our minds to notice any pleasant experiences that are present.
This may be something as simple as the feel of the sun shining on our face, or the gentle fanning of a warm breeze; the beauty of nature; the feeling of connection with someone during a conversation; the smile on the face of a loved one; a touch or embrace; laughter; music; birds singing; the smell of delicious food being cooked. The possibilities are infinite.
The magic of this approach is the more you look, the more you see. When we orient our minds towards focusing on what’s right with our present reality rather than what’s wrong with it, we begin to see that in most situations in life, there is a lot more to celebrate and appreciate than there are things to grieve and bemoan.
The work of Rick Hanson and Barbara Fredrickson highlight effective strategies for sucking all the good out of positive experiences, and, developmentally speaking, gain the most we can from them.
The first step is noticing the pleasant experience. Then we work at embellishing and enhancing the experience. We go deeply into the experience, exploring it fully and noticing how we experience it – where in the body we feel it, what sensations are present, and what thoughts we have around it.
While basking in the experience like this we are not holding onto it or grasping it, but just experiencing it as deeply as possible and trying to enrich it and enhance it by bringing a mindful awareness to it.
Absorbing the experience in this way increases the intensity and duration of the positive emotion that we feel. Developing its potential and allowing it to last means that this neural pattern becomes hardwired in our brains. In effect, this strengthens our inner reserve of positive emotions which then are more easily activated in the future, thus making us a happier and more joyful person.
Try this practice out in your daily life and see if you can notice a difference in your mood and observe any increase in the amount of positive emotion and joy you experience in your life.