Joy. It really is the season for it. Waking up to a blanket of sparkling white outside of your window. Sitting fireside with your loved ones, a cup of hot tea in hand. Watching your child’s eyes light up on Christmas morning. This time of year especially serves up a bounty of happiness, joy, comfort and awe.
If you’re not paying attention, however, you might miss these moments. And during the busy holiday season, it’s easy to focus on stress, tension, and to-dos instead of the moments that make life worth living.
As a doctor, I often speak to patients about mindfulness and the benefits it brings. People who are more mindful — those who pay attention to the “here and now” — are generally happier and healthier. Here’s one of my favourite practical exercises for bringing mindfulness into your life this holiday season and beyond.
Calendarize Pleasant Events
One of my favourite mindfulness exercises is making a Pleasant Events Calendar. I gave it a test drive during a mindfulness course that I took myself, and found it to have powerful, long lasting effects on my ability to notice the joys in life. Here’s how it works.
Get a blank weekly calendar. And don’t wait for a Monday to begin — there’s no time like the present. Print one, use your Google calendar or favourite app, or go old school and write in a beautiful agenda. A crisp, blank piece of paper will also work, just hand write the days of the week and leave space for your thoughts. You’re ready to begin.
For seven days, take note of at least one pleasant event that occurs during the day. It’s not about big events — job promotions, glowing report cards, special outings (though when these do roll around, certainly take notice and soak up all the joy you can from them). Most days, it’s about the small things. The trick is to pay attention during your day. Without knowing it, you’re practicing mindfulness. You’re focused on the here and now. And when joys occur, you’re less likely to miss them.
When a pleasant event happens, take note. What are you doing? Who are you with? What are you thinking? How do you feel? Etch the situation, and the answers to these questions in your mind. Then, once the moment moves onto another, as it will, write down your experience. You may not always have your calendar with you, and that’s ok — you’ve taken such good mental notes, they’ll be fresh when you do find time to write in your calendar. And part of the beauty is reliving the pleasant event. Sometimes, you can even feel the sensations again. Then sleep on it. Repeat the exercise for seven days.
The experience will be different for everyone, but I’d like to share a few entries from my latest pleasant events calendar to give you an idea of what you’re after.
“I’m reading with my youngest son in bed. His head is on my shoulder, his hair still damp from his bath, his little body snuggled close, warm in his fuzzy pyjamas. I hear and feel his breath, becoming more rhythmic, and a bit deeper as he nears slumber. I feel so much love for him, and his unconditional love back. I can almost feel my heart swell.”
It’s late evening. I’ve just finished a fantastic run after a long day at work. I step out the door of my gym, and feel the brisk, frigid air on my face. The snow is crisp beneath my boots. The air is clear and still. There’s a full moon casting a beautiful glow across the blanket of white. I close my eyes to really let my senses — hearing and feeling — take over. My heart is still pumping a bit fast from my workout, my body warm in contrast to the chill of the night. I feel so grateful for my health, for the beauty of nature, the calm and silence of the night.”
Your experiences will be yours — unique. At the end of the seven days, you can look back over your calendar, relive the moments, and note how much joy there truly is in your day-to-day. You may even notice some sadness, some grief over what you’ve missed by not being mindful. But, it’s never too late to change. Start now. Pay attention. Feel the joy.
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