This simple exercise in positive psychology and mindfulness has made a significant difference in my life. It helps me in increasing positive events and emotions on a daily basis.
And this is one of my favorite exercises to do with my son because it shows children how happiness is made up of small joyful events and how we may increase our happiness every day.
It’s a very straightforward idea.
We recognize small everyday moments that bring us joy and try to repeat them. Then, when we feel good during the event we stay with and enjoy the positive emotion.
You can learn to do it in three simple steps. Even learning the first two steps can make a huge difference.
Happiness is just around the corner, or is it?
Studies have shown that the frequency of pleasant experiences, rather than the intensity of such experiences, is a considerably stronger predictor of happiness (Diener et al., 2009).
In other words, it is more beneficial to enjoy mundane daily activities rather than waiting for big, unusual life events that don’t happen very often.
The number of positive experiences you have is far more important than their uniqueness. So, to feel happier we want to increase the number of positive experiences and emotions we experience every day.
My challenge has been that I’m a huge planner.
I’m worried about the future, and I’m trying to avoid messing up by checking things off my never-ending to-do lists. Does this ring a bell?
The issue with this strategy is that I seldom celebrate my accomplishments.
What I mean is that when I get something done I rarely feel positive about it unless it’s a huge accomplishment.
Happiness, I believe, is right around the corner…
…if I only do one more thing (or rather all the things on my list).
So, I simply move on to the next item on the list and worry about it instead of celebrating my win.
This used to apply to most positive events in my life. Something excellent happened, but I moved on to the next thing instead of appreciating it.
As a result, the majority of positive experiences went unnoticed and unappreciated.
This diminished the joy I would feel every day.
Fortunately, there are possibilities to have enjoyable experiences practically anywhere. With a little planning, you can make them a reality!
Catching positive events
Thankfully, I’ve learned to “catch” more positive moments and feelings.
A teacher told me a few days ago how enthusiastic my son is about sports and how he makes the other kids happy when they play together. She told me that there was a noticeable difference on the school yard without my son’s enthusiasm and joy when he stayed home for a week.
Hearing these things from a teacher felt incredible. I was struck by a positive feeling and decided to carry it with me as I walked to my car, grinning all the way. In psychology, this is referred to as savoring
Savoring — staying with the positive
Savoring is the capacity to take note, appreciate and draw out the positive moments in life (Bryant & Veroff, 2007; Jose et al., 2012).
When we apply mindfulness to positive events and emotions we increase the joy we experience.
Here’s an example. Tuorila, Meiselman, Bell, Cardello, and Johnson (1994) found that attention to taste, smell and appearance while eating increased liking for familiar foods.
Another study by Erisman and Roemer (2010) found that watching a positive movie mindfully was linked to higher levels of positive emotion.
It makes sense; the more we focus on the positive in the moment, the better we feel.
So how do you develop these skills? Fortunately, it’s simple to get started with.
Positive psychology exercise for kids —How to increase everyday happiness
Here’s how positive psychology and mindfulness can help you create more positive events and emotions.
The goal with the following exercise is to assist yourself and your children in identifying, intentionally planning, and savoring everyday moments of joy.
There are two basic ways you can do this.
A) Journaling is great for older kids.
B) Simply having a discussion about it is great for younger children.
It’s all very simple and you can do it in three easy steps.
Step 1 — Identify happy moments
This first question is similar to gratitude practice. You simply consider something that may occur in the future that gives you joy.
“What would make today great?”
Today my answer was: eating healthy yummy food, and doing my exercise routine.
My son’s answer was: playing dodge ball!
Isn’t it amazing how doable these things are?
We can easily accomplish these goals and make today a better day! And simply chatting about these joyful things made us feel good and reminded us that we don’t need a lottery win to be happy today.
It’s fine if children come up with fantastic ideas. Meeting Spiderman, for example. It’s cool, but it’s a little more difficult to achieve unless you have Peter Parker’s phone number. It usually helps to provide a few concrete examples to lower the bar a little bit.
You can also just ask another question:
“Can you think of an everyday activity that brings you joy that you can do today?”
“Can you think of something small that will make you happy that you can do today?”
Step 2 — Plan a happy event
Ask yourself and the children one of the following questions:
“What will you do to make this day great?”
“What are you going to do to make this day special?”
Today, my son realized he could simply ask the other kids and their teacher to play dodge ball.
Ta-dah! Who knew it was this easy to schedule in more joy?
I decided to schedule a workout and prepare a tagine dish (a slow-cooked Moroccan savory stew).
I know I need to prep for meetings and show up at the school board meeting this evening. But, because I know how important these two things are to me and how good they will make me feel, I will make room for them.
By the way, I’ve been exercising three times a week for six months now!! Is there cause to rejoice? Yes!!
Step 3 — Savor the moment
The final step is to be mindful of the positive event when it happens.
You can instruct the children to take a brief pause while experiencing the event of choice and simply pay attention to how they feel.
Later, ask them how it felt. You might get surprised by their answers.
To assist my son in catching and prolonging the positive moment, I instructed him to pause for a short period of time while playing dodge ball and simply pay attention to how it feels in his body.
Later I asked my son about it.
Identifying dodge ball as a happy moment was a big deal. It’s something that focuses his mind, calms his thoughts, and causes him to lose track of time. What a wonderful sensation!
Dodge ball is undoubtedly a “flow event” for my son. Increasing the quantity of flow events in your life can also make you happier! Identifying flow events and doing more of them is a great way to boost happiness and learning, but I’ll cover flow in more depth in another piece.
I decided that I will focus on how exercise and good healthy food makes me feel.
After my workout, I felt strong and unstoppable, and I stayed with that feeling for a few minutes. I actually congratulated myself for working out.
By the way, this little celebration increases the likelihood that I’ll continue exercising—by conditioning the mind when experiencing all the feel-good hormones. I now understand why men grunt and yell “yes!!” at the gym. I didn’t get that before :-)
As I ate my Moroccan stew, I paid close attention to the sensations of taste, smell, and appearance. It felt fantastic, and the flavors seemed to have been enhanced. When I finish this article, I’m going to make another stew!
Like most positive psychology and mindfulness exercises, this one improves and becomes easier with practice. So the key is to keep going and give your brain a chance to learn the skill.
The first few days require a little more effort, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Remember, you don’t have to do this every day. You might want to give it a shot a few times a week to see how it goes.
See if you can identify small events that bring you joy, then do them on a regular basis and focus on the positive feelings you get from them. I’d love it if this little positive psychology-based “hack” made you happier <3
Click here to download a PDF summary of this exercise you can print to remind yourself of the exercise.
If you enjoyed this mindfulness and positive psychology-based activity then consider signing up for my upcoming children’s gratitude and well-being journal series and see if you will be one of the lucky ones to test drive the first journal for free before the launch. Sign up below:
With gratitude, Chris Bergstrom
Chief Mindfulness Ninja @ Blissful Kids
#1 Best-Selling Author of:
Ultimate Mindfulness Activity Book: 150 Playful Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Teens
★★★★★ Awesome “Bought this book for my 6 year old, but even my 3 and 15 yo love the activities. We usually incorporate activities on a daily basis and it’s been working so far.”
Baby Shark Saves the Day
★★★★★ Cute and calming “With the craze being all about baby sharks, it’s a great idea to take it and use it to help our kids calm down themselves. I’m a therapist and look forward to using this with my kid clients.”
Chris Bergstrom is a bestselling mindfulness author, a leader in the field of mindfulness, the founder of BlissfulKids.com, a blog dedicated to children’s mindfulness, and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also known as “the dad who tried 200+ mindfulness activities” and has taught meditation for more than 15 years.
Diener E., Sandvik E., & Pavot W. (2009) Happiness is the frequency, not the intensity, of positive versus negative affect. In: Diener E. (Ed.) Assessing well-being. Social indicators research series. Springer Dordrecht.
Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Erlbaum Associates.
Jose, P. E., Lim, B. T., & Bryant, F. B. (2012). Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 176-187
Tuorila, H., Meiselman, H. L., Bell, R., Cardello, A. V., & Johnson, W. (1994). Role of sensory and cognitive information in the enhancement of certainty and linking for novel and familiar foods. Appetite, 23, 231-246.
Erisman, S. M., & Roemer, L. (2010). A preliminary investigation of the effects of experimentally induced mindfulness on emotional responding to film clips. Emotion, 10, 72-82.