After a year of Zoom birthday parties and virtual graduations, many of us want to revel in gathering together again. Celebrations help to create and cement relationships. “It’s really important that post-pandemic we embrace more and more celebrating,” VanderWeele said.
But it’s not just the big occasions that should be marked. Acknowledging small moments is also important for wellbeing, research shows. Psychologists call it “savouring.” Savouring is about appreciating an event or activity in the moment, sharing tiny victories and noticing the good things around you.
Try “Sunday dinner gratitude”
Some people expressed gratitude more during the pandemic, whether it was clapping for health care workers or thanking a grocery checkout person. But creating a weekly gratitude ritual can cement the habit. Numerous studies show that taking time to reflect on what we’re grateful for improves our quality of life.
In a 2003 study, researchers instructed college students to list, once a week, five things they were grateful for, both big and small. (Some wrote that they were grateful for waking up that morning; one included gratitude for the Rolling Stones.) Compared to a control group, the students assigned to the gratitude intervention for 10 weeks had better feelings about life as a whole and fewer physical complaints.
A gratitude practice should not be a burden. Try to stack a new gratitude habit on a weekly ritual — like Sunday dinner with family, taking out the trash or your weekly grocery run.
Do five good deeds
Acts of kindness not only help others, they also can help you flourish. Research shows that performing five acts of kindness in a single day, once a week, can have a powerful effect. A 2004 study showed that when university students spent a day doing five acts of kindness — like donating blood, helping a friend with a paper or writing a thank-you note to a former professor — they experienced more significant increases in well-being than those who spread out five kind things over the course of a week.
Volunteer work can also improve well-being. VanderWeele and other researchers looked at data from a cohort of nearly 13,000 older adults and found that participants who volunteered at least two hours a week during the study period experienced higher levels of happiness, optimism and purpose in life, compared to those who did not volunteer at all.
To make it easy, Grant recommends starting off with a daily “five-minute favour,” like introducing two people who could benefit from knowing each other, or sending an article or podcast link to a friend, saying you were thinking of them.
Look for communities and connection
Even a quick chat with a stranger or a momentary bond with someone new can foster a sense of fulfillment, particularly when what researchers call a high quality connection occurs. “They don’t have to be lasting relationships or long interactions,” Grant said. “Sometimes people feel an extra spring in their step when they talk to a stranger on a plane or a bus, or when somebody greets them at a restaurant.”
Moments of being seen by other people, and being met with respect or even enthusiasm, can energise and invigorate us and help create bonds within our neighbourhood or community.
As you emerge from pandemic life, try to reconnect with a community you’ve missed. It might be going back to church or choir practice, a running group or yoga class or even just hanging out at your local coffee shop. And don’t be afraid to chat with a stranger, reconnect with your barista or strike up a conversation at the dog park.
Find purpose in everyday routines.
What things do you look forward to each day? What gives your life meaning? Research has found that flourishing comes from daily routines, like working on a new skill or reaching out to thank the people you value in your life, and small moments of mastery, connection and meaning.
While work doesn’t have to be the main driver behind your sense of purpose, studies show that reframing how you think about your job can improve your sense of satisfaction. Deepening relationships with co-workers and reminding yourself how your job contributes to a greater good can change how you think about work. If you’re an insurance agent, for example, perceiving your job as a means of helping people get back on their feet after an accident, rather than focusing on a rote task like processing claims, can make your work more fulfilling.
“People think that in order to flourish, they need to do whatever their version of winning the Olympics is, or climbing a mountain, or having some epic experience,” Grant said.
If you’re feeling down, choose a small project. It could be as simple as cleaning the kitchen or doing yard work, or even washing your pillowcases. Maybe you set a 10-minute timer and go for a short jog, or try a one-minute meditation. Completing a simple, impactful task can build toward a sense of accomplishment.
Try something new.
“Many of us think we need to change our circumstances, get a job where we earn tons more money, or switch our relationships, buy something new,” said Santos. “But what the research really shows is that flourishing comes from a different set of behaviours and habits.”
And now that life is getting back closer to normal, there are more opportunities to branch out. You can join a book club or running group, take a pottery class, visit a museum or outdoor art exhibit, try a new recipe, explore a nearby trail or neighbourhood or test out a free language learning app like Duolingo.
Most important for overall well-being, Keyes said, is being interested in life; a sense of satisfaction or happiness tends to follow that. The pandemic has challenged us because we haven’t been able to pursue many of our previous interests, he said. “The first key to feeling good about life is to seek out new interests,” he said.
Grant also said learning a skill and then teaching it to someone, or taking on passion projects as hobbies, can lead to fulfillment. The end of the pandemic offers a new opportunity to reflect, he said, and to ask a new question: “How do I want to spend my time?”
The New York Times
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