Feeling joy in the present moment
Feeling joy in the present moment involves two divergent sets of experiences. First, there are the instant pleasures that are often linked to the bodily senses such as tasting an exquisite desert, hearing your baby giggle, experiencing a first kiss with a romantic partner, touching the fur coat of a kitten, etc. You typically experience the instant pleasures for just a brief moment and then you become accustomed to them very quickly and more is needed to recapture that initial thrill. Savoring, is a small subset in the field of positive psychology and involves learning how to deliberately maintain awareness and attention to experiencing pleasure. Some examples of savoring techniques include taking mental photographs, sharing the experience of the pleasurable moment with another, expressing appreciation for what you are encountering, and involving all of your senses in capturing the moment. In addition, you can also bring pleasure into the present moment by savoring pleasurable memories or savoring fantasies about the future. Individuals who can savor life’s pleasures experience lower levels of depression and stress.
Secondly, there are the higher-level pleasurable activities that are more complex and cognitive-based. You don’t typically experience strong bodily or emotional pleasures from these activities but instead become totally immersed and absorbed in what you are doing, so that time seems to stand still. These activities, which psychology professor, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, has referred to as flow, typically build upon our strengths and require skill and effort, such as mountain-climbing, learning a new instrument, or playing a chess match against a worthy opponent. The activities need to be not totally beyond your skill level in that you become frustrated or conversely, well below your capabilities so that you become easily bored. Ultimately, these activities enhance our sense of control, increase self-worth, present us with meaningful challenges, and help us to grow as individuals.
Exercise #1: Savor an amazing experience. Pick an activity that you derive much bodily pleasure from, whether it be a massage, eating a delectable piece of cake, etc.
Use all the aforementioned techniques to derive as much pleasure as possible from your chosen activity.
Exercise #2: Develop a top 10 list of the happiest moments that you have experienced in your life. Each day, pick a different memory to focus in on, during a slow-time. What were the events directly preceding and following the memory? What other individuals were there? What emotions and thoughts were running through your body and mind?
Exercise #3: Create a memory box of momentos, letters, and photos that remind you of wonderful people, events, and experiences. Every so often, pull out the box and think about the memories of your positive experiences. You can use this technique as a happiness booster when you’re feeling sad or simply as a way to cherish your precious memories. Try not to compare past experiences with your current situation if this is upsetting: focus only on the positives of these memories and how they’ve made your life better and more meaningful.
Exercise #4: Despite all the benefits of flow, we often tend to choose easy pleasures such as watching television, shopping, or drinking over flow experiences. Which easy pleasures do you gravitate to? Keep a daily log of your easy pleasures and ratings of your happiness afterwards. In contrast, when do you experience flow? Keep a daily log of your flow experiences and ratings of your happiness afterwards.
Exercise #5: Life often presents itself as a series of routine tasks which must be accomplished but lead to monotony. How can you transform some of your routine tasks into either pleasurable or flow activities? For example, using all your senses to savor a warm shower, taking a new route to work, or fully engaging yourself in playing with your child.