Life is short, but we spend most of our time on earth in our heads, never present and experiencing life as it unfolds in front of us.
If you are stuck thinking too much and not experiencing enough, please know you’re not unusual or to blame. Our brain is hardwired to continually be on the lookout for danger and give more attention to our possible negative experiences than to our positive experiences. This vigilance and heightened awareness of anything that could be wrong is what kept our Neanderthal ancestors safe long enough to reproduce, so it’s been a critical element of our survival.
But these traits are far less useful today than they were when our ancestors were living in caves and foraging for dinner. Today, these traits keep us in our heads, ruminating on past experiences and conversations or worrying about things that will never happen. All the while, we’re falling in love, achieving our dreams, and standing by while our children grow up, but we’re only experiencing these joys from a distance.
The antidote to missing out on the richness of life is mindfulness, or just being aware of what’s happening as it’s happening. Mindfulness is often called present moment awareness. There are many different tools and tricks to help you practice mindfulness, but the one that is going to be especially important this holiday season is the trick of noticing the good.
Noticing the good is precisely what it sounds like, but it’s a powerful way to be present and imprint memories of the good happing around you. Since each thought we have creates a neural pathway in our brain, repeated thoughts or feelings make those pathways deeper and stronger. This process is what we experience when we get stuck worrying or fretting about something. It’s also why intentional positive thinking has the power to uplift our mood when we’re caught in a downward spiral. In this case, noticing the good will help you hold on the little joys of everyday life longer and experience them deeper.
How do you go about noticing the good? You do just that.
When you see a beautiful sunrise, stop and take it in. Notice the colors and how the dawn of a new day makes you feel. Hold on the experience for a little bit.
When you’re enjoying a nice dinner with friends, slow down and notice. Notice your feelings of happiness, contentment, or peace, and hold on to them a little bit. Take the time to fully taste the food and savor it.
When you hear a group of carolers, take in the sound. Notice the beauty in their voices. Notice the emotion on their faces. Notice the smells around you, and just breathe in the present moment.
When you’re watching your children laugh and play in the snow, notice the joy and the beauty of their innocent happiness. Slow down and savor the experience. When you’re present to the little joys in life, you begin to realize they are the big joy in life.
You deserve to be happy this holiday season. You deserve to make joy-filled memories that last a lifetime. So, give yourself the one gift that can change your life. Give yourself the gift of presence.
If the mindfulness is interesting to you or you just want to live a more present life, check out the work of Dr. Rick Hanson. All of his books are amazing, but my favorite is Just One Thing. In this book, Dr. Hanson recommends taking in the good and many other small daily habits that will help you experience more joy in life.