In the bluster and busyness of life, it's easy to miss out on opportunities for pleasure that are hidden in plain sight. By becoming a better self-observer, you can better capitalize on these. Try these tips for getting more pleasure out of all the things you already do.
1. Pay close attention to experiences that feel good.
I'm someone who is very anxious by nature but despite this predisposition to anxiety, my mood is generally happy. Part of why I feel happy most of the time is because I'm as sensitive to positive emotions as much as I am to anxiety. I tend to notice any experiences that feel good, like how good it feels to take a stroll, be in the sunshine, or finally get around to a task I've been putting off.
Experiment to try: For one weekday and one weekend day, keep an hourly journal of any experiences that give you any dose of positive emotions, even fleetingly. Set your phone alarm to beep every hour to remind you to record.
- Count everything and pay particular attention to sensory events, like sitting in a sunny spot under a window, or getting into clean sheets.
- Include relief from negative emotions, like finally solving a difficult problem, such as if you're coding or wrestling with a complex spreadsheet formula.
- Include positive emotions you feel from getting basic things done, like any housework or personal care and grooming jobs that feel satisfying to you.
2. Understand the types of pleasure that, for you, aren't susceptible to hedonic adaptation.
Hedonic adaptation is when pleasurable experiences get less pleasurable with more exposure. Your fourth cookie doesn't taste as good as the first, for example, or when you buy a new car, it no longer feels as special after a few months.
If you're a good self-observer, you can pay attention to what daily pleasures don't seem to get old for you. For me, the pleasures that don't diminish tend to be related to kisses and cuddles with my three-year-old, sunshine exposure, and doing work I feel proud of.
Experiment to try: Look at the results you got from the experiment under point number one and note any experiences you have daily, which are still very pleasurable despite being frequent occurrences. When you identify what these are, pay special attention to those moments during the day. For instance, I love that my child always looks happy to see me when she gets out of bed or if I've been out running errands, and that little smile never gets old.
3. Spot when the effects of normally pleasurable activities are diminished.
Conversely, pay attention to when you're getting bored of activities that are usually pleasurable to you, like if you enjoy watching TV, but do it too much and it becomes much less enjoyable. If you spot these patterns, you'll know it's time to mix up your leisure time activities and try something novel. I often find that, in these cases, trying a different type of physical activity (e.g., the rock wall at the gym) or doing a project with my child works well, such as we built a solar-powered robot kit over the weekend.
It's fine to have favorite activities but they might also lose their luster periodically, especially if you find yourself heavily relying on just a few activities to decompress during a period of stress.
If you take a break from your favorite activities to try a novel activity, you'll probably feel more pleasure when you go back to your favorites after the break.
Experiment to try: Brainstorm a few ideas for novel activities you could try if you get bored of your typical favorites.
4. Savor the pleasure of getting things done.
Earlier I mentioned getting satisfaction from completing jobs like housework. I'm not saying every task you do will feel satisfying to you, but try to increase your self-understanding of what gives you a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. Closely notice what specific emotions you feel, such as if tidying up or clearing the dishes helps you feel calm, if the physical work of vacuuming is energizing, or if the rhythmic nature of folding laundry helps you feel relaxed.
In your work life, notice which aspects of your work are particularly satisfying to you, and why, such as if working with a particular collaborator is something you look forward to, or if there is work that challenges you but also feels deeply satisfying when you crack it.
Experiment to try: The better you're able to notice the nuances in how different activities make you feel, the more pleasure you'll be able to eke out of these, such as if you start to look forward to feeling energized by vacuuming or calmed by laundry. Identify three examples now, including at least one from your personal life and one from your work life.
5. Notice mixed emotional experiences and accentuate the positive.
My three-year-old is at the stage of wanting to play the same games all day every day. For instance, we play treasure hunts around the house in which I write clues to "look under the bean bag" etc and she follows them. Whenever I get asked to play this game I think "How am I going think of new ideas for clues, we've already done virtually everywhere in the house?!" This is the negative aspect, but the positive aspect is that I love how much enthusiasm for life she has and that she is asking to play a game that is essentially reading and problem-solving practice. The negative reaction is the reaction I get first, but then I get the positive one.
Experiment to try: What experiences do have that involve a mixture of positive and negative emotions. How can you pay better attention to the positive aspects?
Your capacity to notice and briefly savor ordinary everyday pleasures is a skill you can increase. The better you are at it, the happier and calmer you will feel, and the more resilient you'll be. You can improve through better self-observation and meta-awareness of what gives you pleasure and why.
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