We’ve all felt that mood boost that comes after seemingly mundane moments: feeling the sun on your skin, taking the first sip of freshly-brewed coffee, or snuggling with your dog. It turns out the phenomenon has a name: “joy snacking.” Coined by Dr. Richard Sima, PhD, a neuroscientist and columnist at The Washington Post, joy snacking is the idea that finding and savoring everyday routine experiences is a way to sustainably cultivate a more meaningful, happier life. Could it be the secret to consistently feeling more content? Ahead, psychologists weigh in and explain what joy snacking is, the science behind joy, and how to add joy snacking to your routine.
What is “joy snacking?”
It’s safe to say we’ve all got the snacking part down—but instead of your bag of popcorn, chips, or pretzels, it’s what Sima calls “joy snacks” or “nuggets of joy.” Whether it’s the smell (and taste, of course) of chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven, laughing over an inside joke with your best friend, or playing “Flowers” on repeat (or whatever your favorite song is ATM), finding and savoring little “bites of joy” in your day can do your life a major solid (read: bring major pleasure and happiness).
“Joy snacking is exactly what it sounds [like]—grabbing a quick ‘happy’ snack to bring you a dose of joy to keep you going throughout the day,” explained Veronica Hlivnenko, a psychologist and holistic health counselor at InPulse. “Joy snacking is not about big joyous events that usually require prepping, specific timing, or financial investments. It means finding the sources for little bursts of joy in daily life and pausing to soak them in and savor positive emotional responses and pleasant sensations they bring.” Joy snacking isn’t just about experiencing the small moments of bliss, but also recognizing their meaningfulness and appreciating the positive changes they stimulate in you. “When you bring a sense of purpose to it, joy snacking can help you develop a more sustainable presence of joy, promote a greater sense of calm and happiness, and pave your way to a more fulfilled and flourishing life,” Hlivnenko shared.
A study published in Nature Human Behavior found that experiential appreciation is a powerful way of making life feel more meaningful. When participants were asked to recount their most meaningful experience that occurred in the past week, what stood out for the majority wasn’t a grand gesture, occasion, or accomplishment (think: going on a trip or getting a promotion), but rather, something simpler and more mundane, such as having an enjoyable conversation or being surrounded by nature.
What’s the science behind it?
When you experience pleasure (AKA joy snacks), your brain releases dopamine in large amounts, creating oh-so-good feelings not only in the moment, but also continuously as it motivates you to repeat the pleasurable behavior or activity. “The idea behind joy snacking is to intentionally engage in these activities regularly to increase these moments of happiness and the associated dopamine release,” affirmed Ryan Sultan, MD, a board-certified mental health physician, Clinical Director of Integrative Psych, and Research Professor at Columbia University.
“The science behind joy snacking is rooted in positive psychology, which emphasizes the cultivation of positive emotions and experiences,” conveyed Dr. Carly Claney, a licensed psychologist and Owner of Relational Psych. “Regularly experiencing small, positive moments can boost our overall mood and well-being, contribute to resilience, and even counteract the physiological effects of negative events.”
Hlivnenko cited that joy is one of the most powerful emotions, resonating with humans’ core identity and pursuit of happiness. “It makes life worth living and greatly impacts our mental well-being, physical health, and longevity,” she stated. She likened joy snacks to healthy, nutritional eats as they help balance your blood sugar levels, and a positive emotional state enables you to maintain stress levels, lowering blood sugar levels and, thus, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, or hypertonicity.
How to find joy snacks in your life
Finding joy starts with mindfulness and self-awareness. So look inward, tune into your feelings, and take the time to notice what genuinely brings you a sense of happiness and satisfaction. Is it biting into a peanut butter chocolate cup (or is that just me?)? Or perhaps it’s the tulips you stumbled upon on your afternoon walk? When you start pinpointing what your joy snacks are, you become more aware of them and are able to fully immerse yourself and appreciate them. And by intentionally practicing joy snacking by incorporating it into your daily routine, you’ll gradually encounter joy snacks more easily and regularly.
“Joy is a mindset, so if you orient yourself towards it, you become more aware, and being on the lookout for it makes it easier to joy snack,” Dr. Holly Schiff, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist. “Practice an attitude of gratitude since joy and gratitude feed off each other. It can definitely take practice to get better at identifying joy snacks, but slowing down and being mindfully present and in the moment can help you better pay attention and appreciate these experiences.” Whether you put pen to paper in your gratitude journal, take a mindful walk, or engage in meditation, you’ll help shift your focus on the joy snacks in your life.
Other ways to find joy? “Contemplating nature is a proven and affordable joy releaser, rejuvenating your mind and senses,” Hlivnenko said. “It does not necessarily require traveling somewhere and may come in smaller, more casual forms, such as morning sunlight, a flowerbed or a lawn, a tree, a dog, a butterfly, and more—whatever comes along your way.”