3 Seconds to Joy

Do you remember the wonder you had as a child? Do you remember playing in the rain, wondering why the sky was so blue, catching and staring at snowflakes intently, or making imaginary animals out of clouds upon the firmament?

I certainly do. When I used to live in Miami, I used to take the bus back from school. Sometimes, it would rain heavily, which was more than welcome in such a hot, humid climate. When we got to my stop, I would run off the bus, dance in the rain and come home completely drenched. I didn’t care at all because I absolutely loved it.

Now, imagine if I did that at 29 years old, walking around a city in the summer, getting soaked in the rain on purpose. You would, perhaps, think I was a fool. I actually did that recently, by the way. It was awesome. You should try it.

According to Chade-Meng Tan, it is precisely that sense of wonder and gratitude, for little, seemingly trivial things, that can lead to more joy. Google’s former “happiness guru” offers three exercises to help reshape your mindset into a more positive one:

Exercise #1: Look for thin slices of joy

Notice the joyful moments in your day, however small, however fleeting. Notice how good it feels to have that first sip of your drink. Or how tasty that first bite of food is. The pleasurable feeling of your skin in warm water when you wash your hands or take a shower. The moment of delight and comfort when you see your friend.

These thin slices of joy only last a few seconds but they add up! The more you notice joy, the more you will experience joy in your life.

Exercise #2: 10 seconds of loving kindness

Identify two people. They could be in the room with you, at your workplace, or strangers you see walking on the street. Think to yourself: “I wish for this person to be happy and I wish for that person to be happy.” That’s all.

Everyone emerges from this exercise smiling, happier than before, because being on the giving end of a kind thought is rewarding.

Exercise #3: One mindful breath

Bring total and gentle attention to one inhalation and one exhalation. If you have a little time, practice noticing your breath for one minute.

This sounds great in theory, right? But, does it actually work?

Well, after a heavy, emotional conversation I had the night before with someone close to me, I didn’t sleep so well last night. I woke up feeling down in the dumps. I did my 15 minutes of guided meditation, I journaled for a bit, but I felt I couldn’t “om” my way out of this one, so I didn’t try it. I felt marginally better, but not enough to go about my day not feeling preoccupied. Then, I stumbled on an article about the “Jolly Good Fellow” mentioned above (that was actually his nickname at Google, and I wish people would call me that).

I read the article and the concept sounded promising, so I decided to test it. I went out for breakfast with my mother to a dosa restaurant (a South-Indian crepe), and we hopped in a rickshaw towards Gita Bhavan (if you’re ever in Chembur, Mumbai, it comes highly recommended). “Thin slices of joy”, I kept repeating to myself, as the rickshaw sputtered towards our destination.

This exercise is built up of three parts, which, apparently, are required to build a habit. I would have known this, considering I bought the book that outlines this theory, but I have a bad habit of buying more books than I care to read. Ironic, huh? Anyway, Chade’s “thin slice of joy” is built up of a trigger, “the pleasant moment”, a routine, “the noticing of it” and a reward, “the feeling of joy itself”.

So I started eating as many thin slices as I could. I noticed, and took pleasure in, a light breeze that was blowing my hair onto my forehead, which felt really nice! I noticed my mother’s funny expression while I was looking at myself in the rickshaw’s side mirror. I noticed, and reveled in, the bright sunshine. I even observed my excitement at going to this dosa place, and I basked in that for a moment, too.

What sounds potentially silly and trivial, in fact, isn’t. The negative feelings I had hopped in the rickshaw with, started to ebb away with the breeze. I wish I could write that I have always appreciated the small things in life, but that’s not true. And that’s okay – we are all works in progress! This experience, however, gives me motivation to make a habit out of adding “thin slices of joy” to my diet daily.

It takes just a little bit of noticing, it seems.

Tomorrow, I’m going to try the other two exercises. I’ll let you know how it turns out. In the mean time, try these for yourself and let me know in the comments if they work for you! As always, thanks for reading. If you like it, share it!

With deep gratitude,


Quartz Article on Thin Slices of Joy
CBC Radio Article on Chade-Meng Tan 
NYTimes on the Power of Habit

One thought on “3 Seconds to Joy

Leave a Reply