Thin Slices of Joy

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When I feel like I have more on my plate than I can handle, when I feel overwhelmed and stressed, when I feel like I just can’t go on and that there is far more than I can deal with, when I am at the end of my rope and circumstances feel like they are consuming me from the inside out… it helps me to take time to acknowledge and relish the “thin slices of joy.” This concept is discussed in Chade-Meng Tan’s book, Joy on Demand. In his mid-20s, Tan, a Google veteran and self-described “constantly miserable” guy turned “Jolly Good Fellow,” discovered that he wasn’t stuck with self-loathing; temperament, he found, is malleable. Tan contends that successfully changing your mindset has less to do with hours spent in therapy and psychoanalysis and more to do with mental exercises, including the practice of recognizing “thing slices of joy.”

“Right now, I’m a little thirsty, so I will drink a bit of water. And when I do that, I experience a thin slice of joy both in space and time,” Tan told CBC News. “It’s not like ‘Yay!'” he notes in Joy on Demand. “It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s kind of nice.’

Usually these events are unremarkable: a bite of food, the sensation of stepping from a hot room to an air-conditioned room, the moment of connection in receiving a text from an old friend. Although they last two or three seconds, the moments add up, and the more you notice joy, the more you will experience joy, Tan argues. “Thin slices of joy occur in life everywhere… and once you start noticing it, something happens, you find it’s always there. Joy becomes something you can count on.” That’s because you’re familiarizing the mind with joy, he explains.

Tan’s ideas are backed up by neurological research about how we form habits. The basal ganglia region of the brain control habitual behaviors and also plays a role in the development of memories and emotions. The more skilled and adept we become at something, the easier it becomes to repeat that behavior without much cognitive effort.

The “thin slice” exercise contains a trigger, a routine, and a reward — the three parts needed to build a habit. The trigger, according to Tan, is the pleasant moment, the routine is the noticing of it, and the reward is the feeling of joy itself.

The Book of Life agrees:

A pleasure may look very minor – eating a fig, having a bath, whispering in bed in the dark, talking to a grandparent, or scanning through old photos of when you were a child – and yet be anything but: if properly grasped and elaborated upon, these sort of activities may be among the most moving and satisfying we can have.

Today, I invite you to take the time to acknowledge – and look for – the thin slices of joy in your day rather than waiting for something monumental or specific to happen in order to feel happiness. After all, you are trading a day of your life for the experiences you choose to feel and focus on today.

- What are some of your thin slices of joy? What are three thin slices of joy you experienced today?

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