Feeling happy has proven health benefits, from decreasing hypertension and cardiovascular risk to improving mental health outcomes and life satisfaction. Additionally, research confirms that finding pockets of joy is a strong antidote to anxiety, depression, pain, stress and may even help you live longer. It may seem daunting to cultivate more joy in your life during high levels of societal loneliness, stress, and burnout. But Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, says a new program can teach you how to do just that in less than 10 minutes a day.
The Big Joy Project, created by Simon-Thomas and researchers from over 10 Universities, including Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, translates small and tangible interventions reported to improve overall well-being into a seven-day digital happiness program.
“The goal is for people to prioritize experiences and behaviors, for which there exists a strong evidence base, that build skills and habits that can meaningfully increase happiness,” Simon-Thomas, who teaches courses on the science of happiness, tells Fortune in an email interview.
The project’s team sees micro-acts of joy as integral building blocks to better well-being and happiness by improving social trust, positive emotions, and reducing stress.
“We define joy sort of like a mood state,” says Simon-Thomas. “That is, an enduring feeling of goodness and connection to what matters, which can occur when circumstances are favorable, mundane, and also as a supportive veneer during difficult times while making clear and respectable space for unpleasant emotions that arise appropriately.”
The happiness challenge
Over 74,000 people across more than 200 countries have gone through the program, which takes about seven minutes a day for one week. A report released today details the findings: By the end of the program, project participants increased their well-being by 26% and improved their sleep quality by 12%. Their satisfaction with the quality of their relationships improved by 30%; their ability to cope with stress increased by over 33%, and their confidence in affecting their own happiness by 27%. “A particularly interesting finding is that people report feeling more agency, or capacity to influence their own happiness,” Simon-Thomas says.
The seven-day program includes meditating, practicing gratitude, feeling awe, performing acts of kindness, practicing active listening, affirming values, and finding silver linings by reframing past hardships.
Here are three central themes of the project that can help you find joy in your own life:
Search for awe
Research suggests feeling awe can help us find perspective, decrease materialism, improve mood and critical thinking, and may decrease chronic inflammation, according to Berkely’s Greater Good Science Center.
The center defines awe as “the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world, like looking up at millions of stars in the night sky or marveling at the birth of a child.”
Most notably, people feel awe in nature, music, or the arts.
Awe helps broaden perspective, and Simon-Thomas says it, in turn, helps us feel happier. When listening to a meditation or watching a video about nature, which the project introduces in the seven-day challenge, the day’s stressors can feel less dire.
“As individuals, being able to leverage our fuller emotional and cognitive capacities in less self-focused ways, which is more likely when we are experiencing greater personal calm, is central to happiness,” Simon-Thomas says.
Consider going on a walk without your phone or headphones and focusing on small moments of beauty and awe around you.
Perform acts of kindness
Studies underwrite the power of performing acts of kindness. They can improve the satisfaction of not only the receiver but also the giver. Many people who give acts of kindness underestimate the value of their generosity.
“Prioritize interpersonal kindness and behaviors and activities that strengthen social relationships, authentically,” Simon-Thomas says, from writing a friend a card to telling someone you’re thinking about them. Research from Harvard found our happiness depends on the strength of our social ties, so prioritizing connection and kindness relationally is an essential pillar.
Beyond the people we know, connection through brief interactions with strangers can help ground us.
It’s easy to move through our days and mindlessly pass your office’s security guard or barista, distracted by the chaos of the day’s agenda. “Many people feel too busy to invest time and energy into connecting with people, from strangers and acquaintances to family and friends,” Simon-Thomas says. “It turns out that social connection is central to happiness in life and any and all efforts to strengthen and deepen them is of benefit.”
Experts on happiness remind us to slow down, smile, and say hello to the people around us. At least for me, isolated in my familial bubble, the pandemic highlighted the magic of the acquaintance and has since encouraged me to appreciate the people we pass by.
Reflect on your values
As an exercise, try ranking a range of values, from trust and mindfulness to self-awareness and connection. The practice helped me understand the values I care most about and encouraged me to find ways to translate those values into actions. Valuing connection, I plan to host a dinner party with close friends, and valuing mindfulness, I plan to reintegrate my weekly journaling practice. Creating a value-centered thinking pattern can also help you make more confident decisions, which affirms your identity and can improve happiness.
“I would suggest regularly reflecting upon core values and trying to discern decisions and choices in ways that align with these values … with the hope that people can introduce this kind of thinking into mundane and pivotal decision-making moments,” Simon-Thomas says.