Sometimes, in order to feel calmer and more fulfilled, we need to make significant, sweeping changes. We need to change jobs or end a toxic relationship. Sometimes, we need to turn to professional support. We need to go to therapy to confront the heavy grief we’ve been avoiding, or work with an ADHD coach to accomplish a professional dream.
But often small activities are important, too. Because often it doesn’t take much to boost our mood, diminish our stress levels, and spark our satisfaction. The great thing about small activities is that we can easily incorporate them into our already full lives. We can practice these exercises at the office, while running errands, and while being with our kids (and get them involved too).
In the new book 5-Minute Bliss: A More Joyful, Connected, and Fulfilled You in Just 5 Minutes a Day, author and researcher Courtney E. Ackerman shares over 200 simple activities we can do throughout the day. Below are seven 5-minute activities you can try—from practicing visualization techniques to being optimistic to using your imagination.
Draw a happy image. According to Ackerman, “drawing something blissful can give you that same sense of bliss.” She suggests thinking of something that makes you happy—a flower-filled meadow, your spouse’s perfume or cologne, a shiny balloon on a string, or a road sign for a place that’s meaningful to you. Then spend just a few minutes drawing it. After you’re done, savor the positive feelings.
If you have kids, you can even make this into an afternoon or early evening ritual: Everyone can draw one thing that made them happy that day, or one thing that always brings a smile to their face.
Visualize your heart as a flower. To start close your eyes. Imagine that you’re seeing yourself, and look through your body to your heart. Imagine that your heart is a tightly closed flower waiting to bloom. Notice the color, shape, texture, and type of flower it is. Breathe in through your nose, imagining wonderful things, such as joy, love, inspiration.
As you breathe in these beautiful things, imagine your heart flower opening. As you think of more good things, watch your heart unfold and blossom like a flower. Exhale, and observe it blossom even more. Repeat the cycle of inhaling and exhaling and imagining your heart opening up.
Practice alternate nostril breathing. Ackerman suggests doing this breathing exercise seven times: Start by using your right thumb to gently hold your right nostril closed. Breathe in slowly through your left nostril. Next, use your right ring finger to hold your left nostril closed. Release your right nostril, and exhale through that right nostril. Keep repeating the cycle.
Get optimistic. We can become more optimistic by practicing—even if you think of yourself as a true-blue pessimist. Ackerman suggests thinking of an upcoming significant or anxiety-provoking event. Write about all the things that can go wrong. Then jot down three alternative realistic scenarios. How might things actually go right?
“For example, if you’re worried about making a fool of yourself on a date, note that you and your date might both do something silly and share a laugh over it,” she writes. Keep listing three alternate stories for every wrong you’ve written down until you’ve run out of catastrophic stories.
Play with playdough. According to Ackerman, playing with playdough “can boost your creative thinking, keep fidgety hands busy, and help you clear your head and find some extra joy!” You can simply move the playdough around in your hands, or come up with a mini sculpture you’d like to make. Use this prompt as inspiration to play with other fun, relaxing objects: Maybe you try finger painting or use leaves, sticks, and flower petals to create a natural collage. How can you use your hands to create?
Take a mindful walk. This might be a stroll around your block or around your office building, or the park across the street. It could even be a walk to your mailbox. The key is to be mindful of your surroundings. Walk at a natural pace, and notice the movement of your feet, and how your body weight shifts from side to side. Notice your breath. Notice the sounds you hear. Notice any scents that you smell. Notice the colors, shapes, and objects around you. As you’re finishing up your walk, return to the sensation of walking, again. Notice your feet touching the ground and feel the vibration in your legs.
Let your imagination run wild. “Your imagination is a precious thing; it can lead you to innovation and ingenuity, entertain you, encourage you, distract you, and make you more joyful and spontaneous—all of which lead to greater bliss in your life,” Ackerman writes.
To let your imagination run free, close your eyes, and see where your mind takes you. Next combine two very different things to create something new, bizarre, or hilarious. Ackerman shares this example in the book: You see a person walking their dog, and a duck flying overhead. You combine the two, and imagine the person walking a duck while a dog flies overhead.
Another idea is to think about something that captivated you as child. Maybe it was wizards, dragons, unicorns, or the idea that animals can talk. “Whatever is was, pour your energy into imagining your childhood interest as a reality,” Ackerman writes.
Take the activities that resonate with you, and make them part of your daily or weekly routine. Then take some time to think about other small practices you could experiment with. Remember that tiny acts can have a tremendous impact.
That is, maybe you start spraying lavender essential oil on your pillow. Maybe every morning, you start reading a short poem in bed, before ever looking at your phone. Maybe you put on your favorite music as you’re making dinner. Maybe you say a meaningful prayer as you’re eating lunch.
Again, small acts add up. After all, that’s what life is made of.