‘After Facing Immense Tragedy, Embracing ‘Microjoys’ Helped Me Heal—Here Are 2 Tips for Finding These Bright Spots’

Photo: W+G Creative
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Joy is a powerful emotion that can greatly impact how we feel. While large-scale joyous happenings, like a great vacation or hangout with friends, can certainly make you feel good, even the small bits of joy that might present themselves in your everyday life are capable of boosting your mood and enhancing your well-being. If you take the time to look, you may be able to pinpoint a few of these smile-worthy happenings—like biting into a just-ripe berry, or hearing the little chime when someone you love picks up your FaceTime call, for example. These are what positive-thinking expert Cyndie Spiegel calls "microjoys," or the ordinary day-to-day occurrences that can bring you joy and hope.

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On this week's episode of The Well+Good Podcast, host Taylor Camille and Spiegel, author of Microjoys: Finding Hope (Especially) When Life Is Not Okay, speak about why it's so important to notice, appreciate, and celebrate these accessible opportunities for joy, and how they can be harnessed to support your mental and emotional health, whether you're moving through loss and grief, or simply looking to prioritize your self care.

Listen to the full podcast episode here:

After writing a book about positive thinking in 2018, Spiegel experienced a string of personal tragedies in 2020 that knocked her world off its axis. In addition to the societal turmoil caused by the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the rise in police brutality against Black people that year, Spiegel’s nephew was murdered, her mother unexpectedly passed away, her brother-in-law was admitted to the intensive care unit after a stroke, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "None of what I knew, even though I'd studied it, was true in that moment," she says. "I could not positive-think my way out of what was happening, and it felt like this train that just kept coming, and I couldn't stop it."

But even in the midst of such tragedy, Spiegel found a way to access some level of joy by recognizing what she later came to call microjoys. At her nephew's funeral service, Spiegel had her first experience of a microjoy while looking at photos of her nephew with family: "Looking at this kid throughout his life and his silliness as a five-year-old and 10-year-old and how serious he was in his high school graduation photos, it was sort of this mixed moment of joy and also deep grief," says Spiegel. Over the next several months, Spiegel focused on finding more of these accessible moments of joy in her everyday life and sharing them with others via social media.

"What microjoys require of all of us is our attention and our presence."—Cyndie Spiegel, author of Microjoys: Finding Hope (Especially) When Life Is Not Okay

Despite their name, microjoys are not really about the scale or size of the thing, according to Spiegel; rather, they're about joyful happenings that are easily accessible with little effort on your behalf. The key to finding microjoys, says Spiegel, is simply giving the ordinary happenings in your life more of your attention.

The hustle and bustle of our world makes it easy to constantly keep moving to the next thing or to be distracted. "We're not paying attention to what's around us, and we're missing most of life as it passes us by," says Spiegel. To make sure you don't miss your microjoys, dedicate time to finding them; Spiegel suggests setting a two-minute timer on your phone every day and just noticing your surroundings. "What microjoys require of all of us is our attention and our presence," she says.

Photo: W+G Creative

By taking the time to really notice your surroundings, you'll create a practice of being present, and over time, you'll get better at spotting the microjoys when they happen, says Spiegel. You'll also be able to tap into that practice as a way to access joy during times of need, whether you're struggling to care for yourself or to process grief.

Below, Spiegel shares two practices that have helped her to see and appreciate the microjoys in her life, even—and especially—while life has consistently thrown loss and tragedy her way.

2 tips from positive-thinking expert Cyndie Spiegel for finding the microjoys in your life

1. Notice and appreciate ‘the gray’

While it's natural to focus on the marquee moments in your life, whether good or bad (e.g., a bucket-list vacation, a big fight with a significant other), the full timeline is composed of a whole lot of in-between experiences. When Spiegel started to “notice the moments that were happening in the gray” (aka the more ordinary happenings in her life) as she was initially processing multiple traumatic events, she found that it became more feasible for her to appreciate the present.

Taking the time to hone this practice of awareness while she was struggling also made it easier for Spiegel to keep up a similar state of mindfulness even as her grief lessened. The only way to get better at this, she says, is to actually make time to do it. "I can find a microjoy in something ordinary and mundane all the time now because as we nurture this practice, that's what begins to happen," she says.

2. Allow yourself to choose humor

It’s often said that laughter is the best medicine—and to Spiegel, that couldn't be more accurate, especially when you're in the darkest depths of sorrow, as she once was. Indeed, scientific research shows that humor is a powerful mood-booster and stress-buster. And actively searching for it is another way that Spiegel has learned to access more microjoys in her day-to-day life.

Despite the deep pain she's faced, Spiegel says she tries to look on the bright side of life in general because "as adults, it’s very easy to be serious [to a fault]." Naturally, not everything can or should be taken as a joke, but Spiegel says it's key to "let yourself see the silliness in the everyday because there is a lot [to be found] when we allow ourselves to seek it out."

For more on how positive-thinking expert Cyndie Spiegel finds hope and joy in everyday life—even while moving through tragic loss and grief—listen to the full podcast episode here.

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