Do you have tons of items on your to-do list? Well, add one more. It's time to pencil in a little pleasure.
Chances are, you simply deserve some joy and satisfaction. But if you prefer, you can think about the serious side of fun. Experts say good feelings can boost your ability to bounce back from stress, solve problems, think flexibly and even fight disease.
Studies show that:
- Laughing decreases pain, may help your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation and can reduce anxiety.
- Positive emotions can decrease stress hormones and build emotional strength.
- Leisure activities offer a distraction from problems, a sense of competence and many other benefits. For example, twins who participated in leisure activities were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or dementia than their fellow twins in one study.
Ways to create joy and satisfaction
Strengthen Your Funny Bone
You can keep it together by cracking up: It's hard to be irritated, worried or glum when you're rolling in laughter. And gentle humor often helps defuse a tense situation.
Check out some tips:
- Pick up some joke books or humorous essays at a bookstore or library. Keep a few handy for a quick pick-me-up.
- Put together a collection of sayings or photos that make you smile, and stick them someplace visible. Change them occasionally, or you'll likely stop noticing them.
- Keep a humor tape in the car and steer clear of traffic frustration.
- Watch or listen to comedy via video, podcast or website. Or get a laugh the old-fashioned way—through the comics section.
- Try to laugh at some of the hassles in your life if you can. Finding what's a bit absurd or amusing in a challenging situation just might offer relief.
Find Some Fun
Whether it's playing golf or goofing around, having fun isn't just, well, fun. It also promotes our overall well-being and success.
Leisure activities can boost our effectiveness, broaden our perspective, increase creativity and restock our energy supply. Leisure can combat stress by offering:
- social support
- chances to build confidence
- distractions from difficulties
- an emotional lift
Let's have some fun:
- Free up some time. Can you afford to scratch something off your calendar? Is there anyone you can ask to help lighten your load? Set aside a time for fun, and keep it like it was a doctor's appointment.
- Do something you loved to do as a kid. Run through the sprinklers, hang from the monkey bars, make a mess with finger paints.
- Do something you've always wanted to do. Bake a soufflé, build a tree house, learn to knit. If you're not sure how, take a class or look for a local group dedicated to the activity.
- Pursue a creative interest. Writing, singing or making music all have therapeutic effects. Or just turn on a song you love: Brain images show that music can trigger feel-good hormones.
- Do it with someone you love. Get an extra boost from your leisure by sharing it. Good times build relationships, and good relationships are key to our happiness.
What's Your "Flow"?
Some activities provide an extra psychological boost, argues prominent psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. They are activities that totally absorb us, challenge without overstressing us and make us feel fulfilled. They are what create the feeling of "flow."
Everybody's got their own sources of flow. For you, it may mean whooshing down the Alps; for someone else it may be basting a turkey, bowling or mowing the grass. Whatever your flow, it will make you feel effective, confident and in control.
To get more flow:
- Identify the high points of your day. Try to note when you've got that "in the zone" feeling. Or reflect back at the end of the day to see what made you feel good. Then try to do those activities more.
- Don't look for flow in passive pursuits. Watching TV, for example, doesn't offer the challenge that tends to spark flow. And once you improve at a task, considering raising the level of difficulty in some way.
- Inject flow into some regular activities. If you inject more meaning or ingenuity into routine tasks, you can make them more rewarding. In one study of hospital cleaning staff, some were unhappy with the job, but others upped their pleasure by creating new challenges, like working more efficiently or helping patients.
Go Ahead, Indulge
Though there probably isn't much research on the emotional value of a good soak in the tub, we all need some kind of relaxing refuge.
Consider these options:
- Therapeutic massage. A massage can relieve muscle tension, stimulate the body's natural painkillers and boost your immune system. It can also help you feel less anxious and more relaxed.
- Meditation or a meditative form of exercise. Try tai chi or qi gong, which use soothing, flowing motions.
- A nature break. A blue sky, lush bushes, a scenic lake. Walking in—or even just looking at—nature calms our nerves and relieves mental fatigue. In one study, workers with views of nature were happier at their jobs than workers with similar jobs but no nature view.
- A mental vacation. If you can't hop on a plane to someplace soothing, just close your eyes and envision a scene you love. Try to fully imagine the experience of being there.
Get More Out of What You've Got
Sometimes, we don't need to add new activities to get more pleasure. We just need to soak up the joy in the ones we've already got.
If we don't stop to notice the positives in your life, it's like they barely exist. Unfortunately, our daily demands sometimes block our ability to savor. To increase it, try these tips:
- Practice mindfulness, or the experience of being fully aware. You can start by really relishing a meal. Feel the textures, taste the flavors, enjoy the aromas. Don't rush, don't answer the phone (and don't talk with your mouth full!). Remind yourself to be conscious of other experiences throughout the day, like how your shower feels on your skin or how the sun feels on your face.
- Share the joy. If you want to more fully experience your positive experiences, tell a friend about them. That way you'll get to relive the moment—and enjoy your friend's reaction.
- Let it out. When you're feeling good, throw your whole self into it. Go ahead, jump up and down, clap your hands. Research shows that if you act out a certain emotion, you can fire up that feeling.
Reviewed by Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a University of California, Riverside psychology professor and author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Penguin Press).