November 9, 2018

I generally think of myself as a happy person: I want for very little and I smile often throughout the day.

But until this month, I never stopped to think about what happiness means, or whether or not it was a trait that I could cultivate within myself rather than just accepting it as a feeling that either washed over me or...didn’t.

Luckily, I ran across the work of University of Central Lancashire lecturer Sandi Mann. She’s the author of Ten Minutes to Happiness, a book that walks you through ways you can instill more happiness into your life. The book asks you to keep a daily journal and answer six questions in 10 minutes, ranging from reflections on moments of pleasure to thinking about how you were kind to others.

Studies have proven that gratitude journaling can vastly improve your mental health, so I was excited to see if this new practice would help me feel more confident, positive, and, well, happy.

According to the BBC, each of the questions are research-backed prompts to help you shift into a more mindful state of being. Here’s how it went for me, question by question.

1. What experiences, however mundane, gave you pleasure?

Separating pleasure from gratefulness (don’t worry, we’ll get to gratefulness later) was an interesting thought exercise for me. Most of the time, when I think of things that give me pleasure, they mostly double as gratitudes—so finding the difference in the two of them was a great way to flex a different part of my brain.

Most of these pleasures ended up being surface-level acknowledgements of little moments that made me smile. On one day, it was the sun shining on my face as I walked to pick up some lunch. Another day, it was color of the fall leaves and being able to see the Shine HQ pup, Lucy, in the office.

On one day, it was the sun shining on my face as I walked to pick up some lunch.

All of these were small moments that I normally don’t find myself dwelling on, and realizing that they actually gave me pleasure made my day feel so much more meaningful.

2. What praise and feedback did you receive?

As someone who cringes in the face of compliments or praise, thinking back on moments that I felt praise and feedback from others was generally hard. When searching my brain for these moments every day, I realized how uncomfortable I can be with positive attention—and decided to delve into that “why” a bit deeper in my Angsty Journal™. (We all have one of those right?)

After day two of this exercise, I found myself picking up moments of acknowledgement and thinking, “Oh, I can write this down for my happiness exercise!” which helped me process the praise.

Over time, I found myself getting more comfortable with moments of positive feedback, whether the remark was about a project I completed at work or a mention of my outfit. I recognized the power they had to boost my mood, so I also started to reciprocate them when possible.

3. What were the moments of pure good fortune?

Of all of the question prompts, I found this one to be the hardest because of its rarity. It can be easy to consider simple things as pure good fortune, which meant that many times throughout my week, I found myself writing “Got a seat on the subway!” in this portion of the exercise.

Beyond that, the moments of “pure good fortune” were fleeting which made them even more special—a couple included finding $5 on the ground and getting a free coffee. Luck isn’t something you can cultivate yourself, but just acknowledging the moments that I did manage to strike gold made me smile.

4. What were your achievements, however small?

In many ways, this exercise paired nicely with the praise and feedback question, because I found the moments of praise were often tied to accomplishments that I had made publically.

I wrote these down—but I also tried to focus on achievements that no one else witnessed but me. Things like “drank more water” or “went on a run” were two big things that I managed to get done one day. Even things like “keeping my room clean” showed up in this portion of the journal entry.

I tried to focus on achievements that no one else witnessed but me.
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Accomplishing these things gave me a boost of joy, but acknowledging them after the fact prolonged that feeling. I realized how often in my life I brush past my achievements, especially if no one else is around to witness them. It just emphasized the fact that I am my own cheerleader, through the bad times but also through the good.

5. What made you feel grateful?

As someone who just started a gratitude journal I found this question the easiest and breezed through it most of the days. Building a habit of expressing gratitude before I go to bed has helped me savor my days much more, but folding them into this happiness exercise reframed those gratitudes in a new context.

I loved answering this question towards the end of the exercise, too, because it forced me to think harder about what I really was grateful for about the day. Some days it was for my time. Other days, it was a new song (thank you, Ariana Grande).

But I found that the ones that made me incredibly happy to reflect upon were things that aligned so closely to some of my personal values—like community, generosity, and empathy.

A simple text from a friend saying that they loved me and hoped my week was going well made it to my list, and the support network I have amongst co-workers snuck in my entries during the week.

Taking the time, however brief it may be, to hone in on these deeper moments of gratefulness really injected some serious happiness into my day and melted a lot of the stress that piled up without me realizing it.

6. How did you express kindness?

These questions all forced me to reflect in one way or another, but more than the others, the question of “How did you express kindness?” forced me to bring care and compassion to my day-to-day.

Expressing kindness is one of the easiest things we can do, but often times it can slip into the cracks of our lives. Because we get so consumed by the day-to-day hustle, we don’t purposefully instill warmth or sympathy or understanding in every day.

Expressing kindness is one of the easiest things we can do, but often times it can slip into the cracks of our lives.
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Finding big and small ways to express kindness—whether it was just listening to a friend through relationship woes for however long I was needed, or cooking for my father after a long day—helped me just appreciate the small ways others are kind to me. It was the first time I really felt the impact of what researchers have been studying for years: random acts of kindness really do boost your own wellbeing.

But this prompt also helped me reflect on how often times, I’m kind to others but not necessarily to myself. Being kind to myself used to feel selfish. But through this exercise, I began to understand that if I’m kind to myself, it makes showing kindness to others a lot easier, too.

So, am I happier now?

As the days piled up, I realized how much joy I really did find in taking time every day to reflect. I did my exercises at night, which helped me center myself before a clean slate the next day. I found myself doing more self-checks than I had before.

But am I happier after all this work?

That’s a great question—and I’m not sure I know the answer. I feel more full and content, and I find myself savoring moments of happiness more, which helps the feeling last longer.

But as I answered these questions, over time I also realized that being happy on a day-to-day basis isn't necessarily my motivating factor in life. Accepting whatever it is I'm feeling, and using that as fodder to learn more about myself, feels a lot more attainable of a goal than just happiness.

Accepting whatever it is I'm feeling, and using that as fodder to learn more about myself, feels a lot more attainable of a goal than just happiness.
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I’ll definitely keep up with the daily exercise—perhaps at a less intense frequency—but I’m excited to find joy in more unique moments, reflect back on past entries, and use it all to grow deeper.


Read next: If You Want to Be Happy, Make Your Future Self Happy

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