As someone who leans towards melancholy, I recently discovered that incorporating 5 minute joy breaks into my day helps me nurture a sense of peace and happiness within. Life has its ups and its downs, and it’s difficult for many of us to ignore or turn our backs on the negative. We may be told that we are “too sensitive” or that we “think too much”. Whether this is nature or nurture is a debate for another day, but the important thing for anyone who is struggling is to not lose sight of all that is good and beautiful in the world.
To that end I consciously try to notice the grace notes I find scattered in my day to day life and I’ve kept a gratitude journal (albeit sporadically) for years. More recently, I started incorporating a few 5 minute joy breaks into my days.
What is a Joy Break?
Joy breaks are a proactive approach to self-care, it’s something small and fast that I do for myself to give myself a tiny natural chemical boost of oxytocin or serotonin or endorphin.
This emphasis on small is important. Joy breaks are not a big thing that requires a big investment of time, energy, or money. They’re small, personally meaningful gifts to yourself, so they are almost always manageable and doable.
Joy Can Be Present in Small, Ordinary Moments
One January a few years ago, I was in Food Lion buying some onions and I noticed the elderly man who had checked out before me. He had pulled his cart aside and was absorbed in zipping up the jacket of the small toddler in the front of his cart. His fingers were curled and shaking slightly, this wasn’t easy for him, zipping the jacket of a squirming child. I was mesmerized by his expression, such love and fondness in his face as he zipped the child’s jacket and pulled mittens onto the boy’s hands. I felt privy to a moment of sacred, beatific joy. And that moment was occurring at the end of a checkout lane in Food Lion, and it was over in less than three minutes.
I’ve thought about this moment a lot over the years, how a small moment of joy can happen anywhere, any time. I wrote about trying to be present for these grace notes here. It’s all about being present, turning off the chattering narrator in our head and taking time to notice when we feel those flickers of joy. Even better, writing those moments down in our gratitude journals.
We Can Create Our Own Joy
As I started paying attention to things that made me feel happy, I realized that some of them were random and serendipitous, but others were things I had control over or that I did for myself. And it occurred to me to deliberately engage in short, easy activities that brought me delight — to take a joy break whenever I needed one!
And because I use the Pomodoro Technique as a work/productivity tool, I had the perfect opportunity to squeeze a few joy breaks into every day. The Pomodoro Technique is the idea of working hard and in a focused way for 25 minutes, followed by a five minute break. I was starting to skimp on my five minute breaks, just getting up to get a glass of water or do maybe a minute of stretching. By giving myself permission to choose a quick activity that brought me joy, I increased the likelihood I would actually take my full five minute break.
You can incorporate joy breaks into your day other ways too. For example, whenever you transition between activities, or cross something off of your to-do list. I also like to do them when I feel my mood flagging.
I made a list of things I can do in five minutes or less that make me feel happy. I cut the list into strips and put them in a joy break box. This way if I don’t have something specific in mind to do I can just pull an activity from the box and do it. Plus I like the random, gamification nature of pulling an idea from the box.
Joy Breaks are Unique to Each Person
Granted, we can probably agree that a warm hug from someone we love brings joy. But we are unique individuals and there are some things on my list that may not bring you joy, and vice versa. For example, cutting lilacs from my garden and bringing them inside brings me joy, but might make someone else itch and sneeze.
I think it’s really important not to judge what brings you joy. If watching squirrel videos on YouTube or TikTok brings you joy go for it. Joy breaks are for you and your spirit, whatever gives you a little mental boost is fair game.
Small pleasures, small pleasures, who would deny us these?Lyrics, “It’s a Fine Life” from Oliver, by Lionel Bart
One more point — I think we are in the habit of not really noticing how we are feeling unless our emotions are really strong. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten an ugly bruise and not really noticed when or where I got it. The same is true for small joys. It’s important to take note of things that we like or that make us perk up a little bit, that make us feel a little lighter or make us smile. If you have no idea what you could do for a joy break, then just practice tuning into yourself for the next week and noticing whenever you enjoy something.
A Dozen Joy Breaks
To start you off with a few ideas, here are a dozen of my favorite 5 minute joy breaks.
- Take a 3-5 minute dance break to your favorite song
- Gather flowers from yard for small vase
- Massage hands with favorite hand cream
- Diffuse a new essential oil combination
- Go outside and sit in the sun with eyes closed
- Go outside and lie in hammock and look up at the sky or trees
- Read a poem
- Look through a favorite photo album
- Make parmesan popcorn and eat it out of a crystal bowl
- Tend to a few houseplants — water them, snip off dead leaves, spray the branches
- Turn on some twinkle lights
- Sit and meditate for five minutes
Want more ideas? Grab the download below!