“Far beyond feeling good, a micro-moment of love, like any positive emotion, literally changes your mind. It expands your awareness of your surroundings, even your sense of self.”
—Barbara Fredrickson, Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab, UNC Chapel Hill
When I set out to earn my WBI Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology in 2014, I had no idea how large its impact would be on my life. It all stemmed from my yoga and meditation journey, which led me to an interest in the mind-body connection. With additional practices and a greater knowledge of the science behind positive psychology concepts, such as mindfulness, resilience, and gratitude, I envisioned the path ahead as a learning experience that would benefit both my personal life and my career as a journalist. It proved to be everything and more than I’d hoped for, and I also went on to get a certification as a Positive Psychology Coach (thank you, growth mindset!).
Of all the strategies and tools that I’ve incorporated into my life, the one I probably use most often is the practice of noticing and savoring small joys. I smile at strangers and get a boost when they smile back. I literally stop to smell flowers, and soak in the scent as it makes its way into my system. I take time to listen to street musicians, and dance when the urge strikes. I take deep breaths when I’m in nature, relishing the awe and beauty. I laugh nearly every time my dogs romp and play, delighting in their bond. (The list goes on, but I’ll hold back on the joys that come from family and food.) It is truly all about being aware of the small moments of joy that surround us. The key is to take pause, notice, and savor.
Research by Barbara Fredrickson shows that micro-moments of positivity counterbalance the intensity of negative emotions that come with life, loss, challenge, and hard times. Couple that with the sense of agency that each of us has, and the results are profound. The clearest message of my Certificate training was Tal Ben-Shahar’s mantra: “At every moment we have a choice.” The choices we make—to disconnect from technology, to reach out to the people who give us a boost, to infuse our lives with a balance of work and play—provide the opportunities to find small joys. These seemingly fleeting moments are the good stuff of life. They can add meaning to our lives, and prompt us to make positive change. 9
In her poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver looks at her life’s purpose and finds beauty in the simplest parts of the natural world. She seeks out these moments in order to understand herself better and consider what gives her life meaning. Here is an excerpt, which will perhaps inspire you step out and notice some small joys today.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Caren Osten is a certified positive psychology coach, writer and mindfulness meditation teacher. She works with individuals and groups, who seek to cultivate greater positivity, clarity and calm as they navigate life’s daily stresses, challenges and shifts. Caren leads workshops at Kripalu and MNDFL meditation studios, and speaks publicly, sharing the benefits, practices and science of optimism, self-compassion, mindfulness, and resilience. A contributor to The New York Times, Psychology Today, Mindful magazine and others, Caren writes about health and wellbeing, travel and education. She earned both her Certificate in Positive Psychology (CiPP) and and her Certificate in Positive Psychology Coaching from the Wholebeing Institute. Learn more about her work at www.carenosten.com and find her @carenosten on social media