What lights you up about Spring and Summer? After feeling like we’ve been through three winters (LOL) Spring’s arrival helps us to feel lighter. I like to call it the season of hope because there’s so much possibility all around us: in blossoms on the trees and flowers poking out of the ground. It’s so easy to be impressed by Mother Nature when the earth is smiling this way.
I love walking the trail near our home year-round but especially at this time of year. I welcome the sound of a stream rushing, birds singing, the different shades of green; creatures moving through the woods. These are all what I call joy snacks: the small moments of gladness that remind us of all the good there is to appreciate in life. Perhaps you experience something similar on your walks or as you move through your day. I sure hope so.
I think of joy snacks as a valuable ingredient in the recipe for sustainable happiness and here’s why. It’s all about the good feelings we experience when we encounter someone or something that makes us feel joyful. Think babies smiling, someone complimenting you or someone holding a door open for you. These everyday encounters cause our brain to release neurotransmitters or feel-good chemicals into our nervous system. There’s dopamine, known as the feel-good hormone and serotonin, often called the happiness chemical. Easy breezy activities like showing appreciation or kindness, receiving a compliment graciously, going for a walk, or smiling at someone all invite more production of these feel-good hormones and help lift our mood.
“Smiling can trick your brain by elevating your mood, lowering your heart rate, and reducing your stress. The smile doesn’t have to be based on real emotion because faking it works as well.”
-Dr. Diana Samuel MD
Joy is a magical thing and sometimes it’s challenging to believe we deserve it. We’re so conditioned to think that life is difficult, and joy is frivolous. We must become intentional about joy and teach ourselves to be clever joy detectives, packing as much of it as we can into every day. Let’s talk about exercise as a joy snack instead of a chore. Exercise encourages us to focus on the present moment; the experience takes our mind away from thoughts that might make us feel fearful or stressed and the magical piece is that we always feel good after exercise. Instead of looking at exercise as a “got to do it thing,” why not think of it as a “get to do it thing” because you know there’s joy involved. This is especially true when we exercise outdoors in nature and share the experience with someone else.
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
–Russel M Nelson
Our ability to experience joy is always there but it may very well be buried to protect ourselves from feeling hurt or disappointed. I understand that because before I became a joy detective, I felt the need to protect myself but not any longer. I’ve learned that joy helps to expand my perspective on life instead of living with a limited perspective, which happens when we’re focused on negative and fearful thoughts about ourselves and our life circumstances. So, joy is medicine that helps us lift our outlook on life to be more positive and optimistic.
In a recent chat with a woman at Welling, she confessed that meeting so many new people in the community made her feel uncomfortable because she couldn’t remember everyone’s name. I suggested she start greeting people by saying hello, friend. Her face lit up in recognition of the fact that folks in her new community really are her friends and it took the pressure off because now she doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable about remembering everybody’s name. That was a tasty joy snack.
There is so much benefit to being a joy detective. Not only do we experience something that feels good, but when we feel joy, we’re inspired to share it with others. We become more open minded and curious, our creativity expands, we spend less time focusing on what’s wrong because we’re looking for what’s going well. We’re more connected to other people, which improves our social fitness and when we’re joyful, we become more resilient, which sets us up for more positive experiences in the future both in our thoughts and the activities we choose to participate in.
I love to share joy snacks with other people, whether it’s having a meal with friends or surprising fellow walkers on the walking trail I mentioned earlier. I leave quarters on the posts of a little bridge that goes over a stream. I imagine someone seeing the money and feeling joyful, as they put it in their pocket, thinking about what joy they can create for themselves or imagining how they might pass the joy along to someone else. So, my challenge to you is to become a joy detective in your own life. Look for ways to pack as much gladness into your day as possible and when you can, offer a joy snack to someone else. You’ll make their day and light yourself up as well.