Savoring Small Joys for Finding Meaning + Making Positive Change

“Far beyond feeling good, a micro-moment of love, like any positive emotion, literally changes your mind. It expands your awareness of your surroundings, even your sense of self.” 

—Barbara Fredrickson, Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab, UNC Chapel Hill


When I set out to earn my WBI Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology in 2014, I had no idea how large its impact would be on my life. All of it started with my yoga and meditation practice, which led to an interest in mind-body connections. I envisioned the path ahead to be a learning experience that would help me in my personal life as well as my job as a journalist. It proved to be everything and more than I’d hoped for, and I also went on to get a certification as a Positive Psychology Coach (thank you, growth mindset!). 

Of all the strategies and tools that I’ve incorporated into my life, the one I probably use most often is the practice of noticing and savoring small joys. I smile at strangers, and feel a boost when they smile back. I stop and smell the flowers, and take in the aroma as it enters my body. I take the time to listen and dance to street musicians. I take deep breaths when I’m in nature, relishing the awe and beauty. I love to laugh every time my dogs play and romp, and enjoy their bond. (The list goes on, but I’ll hold back on the joys that come from family and food.) It’s all about being aware and appreciative of the small moments that bring us joy. The key is to take pause, notice, and savor.

Research by Barbara Fredrickson shows that micro-moments of positivity counterbalance the intensity of negative emotions that come with life, loss, challenge, and hard times. This is combined with the deep sense of agency each of us have, and the results can be profound. The clearest message of my Certificate training was Tal Ben-Shahar’s mantra: “At every moment we have a choice.” The choices we make—to disconnect from technology, to reach out to the people who give us a boost, to infuse our lives with a balance of work and play—provide the opportunities to find small joys. These fleeting moments are the best of life. These moments can bring meaning to our lives and encourage us to make positive changes. 9

In her poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver looks at her life’s purpose and finds beauty in the simplest parts of the natural world. These moments help her to better understand herself and reflect on what gives her life meaning. Here is a short excerpt that may inspire you to take a step outside and find small joys today.


I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I can pay attention.

How to fall down into grass

How to kneel in the grass

How to be both idle and blessed

How to stroll through the fields

This is what I have been doing all my life.

Tell me, what else could I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what are you planning to do?

With your one wild, precious life?

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