You Have Homework

The meaning of life is often found in moments of simple joy.  Perhaps the greatest gift we can give is to share those moments with others.

The conversation began innocently enough.  Our initial discussion focused on the usual two topics discussed by men in their seventies; our medical issues and our grandchildren.  We are both fortunate, as the health issues we face are minor and our grandchildren are the lights of our lives.  Rich then asked me, “Anything else new and exciting going on?”  I smiled as I cast my line, responding, “Yes, I’m getting some rewiring done.” It was like watching the trout break the surface, grab the fly and run with it.  “Oh, that can be expensive, I remember a few years ago when we did some remodeling.  Our electrician had to do some extensive rewiring.  Are you using a local contractor?”  “No!”  I said, “I’m working with Laurie Santos.”  “Never heard of her.”, he responded.  I smiled and said, “She’s out of New Haven, Connecticut”  For a brief moment he had a quizzical look about him and then I heard the laugh as he said, “You’re taking another f#@%$*g course, aren’t you?”  I laughed and shared, “Yep, she’s helping me to rewire my brain so I can better enjoy and share some of the simple joys of life; like laughter.”  Rich stared at me for a moment and asked, “Was this a homework assignment?”  “Yes!”, I said and we both laughed.

The course I am taking is called, “The Science of Well-Being”, and our homework assignments are referred to as “Rewirement Exercises”.  Over the course of ten weeks we are considering a variety of concepts associated with personal well being, and thus far our focus areas have included happiness, kindness, social connection, gratitude, and a number of other topics.  Our rewirement exercises require us to take what we have learned, apply it to our lives and maintain a reflective journal.  A recent assignment, that I thoroughly enjoyed, required that I share joy with others.  Specifically, the exercise helped me to understand that by bringing laughter or a smile into another person’s life, I bring simple joy into my own; something I’d like to share with you.

Self generated moments of simple joy are small, simple, and easily attainable.  They are sensations and experiences we look forward to, make us feel good and give us a sense of happiness.   They can be as simple as enjoying a cup of coffee in the moments just before dawn, or having a bourbon and talking with Harry (my late father) while sitting on the deck late at night.  But what happens when we create a moment of simple joy for someone else?  Research tells us it can be a small but powerful way to make a positive difference in their life, impacting their well-being, happiness, and sense of connection to others.  In fact, it may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, more productive, and meaningful.  Here are seven starters.  Feel free to add anything that you know bring you joy

  1. Give a heartfelt compliment: A sincere compliment can brighten up someone’s day and make them feel appreciated and valued.

  2. Send a thoughtful note: A handwritten card or letter expressing the value they bring to your life can be a meaningful way to brighten someone’s day,

  3. Be their morning bright spot:   How many of us look at our email first thing each day?   Create a simple joy by sending a short early morning email that contains a positive and inspiring message.

  4. Pay it forward:  One of the most powerful ways of sharing simple joy is paying it forward for a complete stranger.  It not only creates a moment of simple joy, but reinforces the belief that there are good and caring people in the world.

  5. Acknowledge others and share your smile:  When we make eye contact, share a smile and wish someone a wonderful day, we are acknowledging them.  For some, that brief moment of simple joy will be the best part of their day.  Again, do this with a stranger.

  6. Express gratitude:  If someone has done something to bring a simple joy into your life, express thanks.  In doing so, you acknowledge and let them know their actions were appreciated.  You also bring credibility to the phrase, “We reap what we sow!”

  7. Give a heartfelt compliment:  A sincere compliment can brighten up someone’s day and make them feel appreciated and valued.

While experts have yet to determine the limits of the brain’s abilities, evidence does support the existence of one of its most important processes; neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire itself when it recognizes the need for adaptation.  In other words, our brain can continue developing and changing throughout life.  Rewirement exercises serve a purpose; they facilitate this change.  This particular assignment is designed to help you develop the new habit of sharing simple joys.  The research suggests that if you complete the homework as prescribed, you will also get a boost in your own mood and well being.  Now for the homework.

Over the next seven days you are to share a simple joy with at least two other people daily.  Each evening take a moment to reflect and make a few notes about how you felt when you “shared the joy”.  At the end of the week, read your daily reflections and then write an answer to this prompt, “After one week of trying to bring simple joy into the lives of others I feel…………..”

If you find, and I believe you will, that this exercise has served to boost your mood and well being, then I challenge you to continue this practice for one month.  Not only will you find yourself living a more fulfilling life, but you will have rewired your brain to understand the benefits of sharing simple joys, and making the world a more joyful place for yourself and others.

Embrace the Challenge
Share the Joy