mindful family activityDid you know that a study conducted by Harvard University found that we are distracted 47% of the time? That means nearly half of our days, weeks, months and lives go by unnoticed and unappreciated. What a loss!

Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, encourages us to really “take in” even quite small good things in our days, not let them go by in that distracted blur, but to spend time savoring them, letting them soak into our bodies and brains. Hanson says this is an easy way for us to rewire our brains over time for greater well-being and happiness.

Our brains have evolved to have a negativity bias — to be Teflon for the good and Velcro for the bad. So if we just leave it to chance, we won’t register many of the lovely little moments of our lives. But we can do something to change this imbalance.

There are two ways you can find material for these good things to savor:

  1. Notice things as they are happening and take a mindful pause to soak them up.
  2. Recall good things and take a few moments to soak them up.

It can really be anything good at all that you notice, remember or enjoy. It could be something you see, feel, taste, hear or touch. Or it might be an interaction you have with someone during the day.

Looking for these good things and savoring them is called “self-directed neuroplasticity” and is one of the ways we can get back into the driver’s seat of our own mood and well-being anywhere, anytime, multiple times a day.

I decided to apply this to a colorful and fun activity for my whole family.

As a psychologist and mindfulness teacher, I know the value of positive family rituals in making children feel safe, seen, connected and strong — and this activity achieves this AND sets all of us up for greater happiness. Here is how it goes:

A Jar Full of Happy

  1. Find a transparent jar that is large enough to hold at least 7 notes from every member of your family.
  2. Take some colored paper (several different colors) and cut it up into note-sized pieces, or use sticky notes.
  3. Pick a time towards the end of each day — if you can make it during dinner (or just before bed) that would be great — and take turns recalling something good that you noticed today.
  4. Write it down and then share it with each other, taking at least 20-30 seconds to bask in the glow of the goodie. If your children are not writing yet, you can write it for them in their own words.
  5. Place the colored pieces of paper in the jar. We leave ours in full view on the kitchen bench so we are reminded to notice the good moments and to complete our ritual each night.
  6. At the end of the week — perhaps when you have five minutes or so on the weekend — sit down as a family and pull each piece of paper out of the jar and read the notes aloud to recall all the lovely things that have happened during the week. Celebrate all the goodies by doing something fun together as a family, even a family hug!
  7. Keep your notes from each week together and anytime anyone needs some sprinkles of happiness to brighten their mood, the notes are right there at your fingertips.

Jar of notes photo available from Shutterstock