Hannah Frye

Assistant Beauty & Health Editor

By Hannah Frye

Assistant Beauty & Health Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

Woman walking on road at sunset wearing headphones

Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy

October 3, 2023

Focus on the factors in your life you have control over. It’s advice you may have heard once or twice before, and it’s certainly easier said than done. However, it’s a helpful reminder to make even the tiniest flexible moments just a bit more joyous. 

Award-winning Harvard psychologist and mindfulness researcher Ellen Langer, Ph.D., (who is also known worldwide as the “mother of mindfulness”) agrees. And as she recently explained on an episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, this practice doesn’t have to be complicated. Below, find her No. 1 tip to make the most of your days, even in small ways. 

The key to life-long happiness

Her take: Make small moments fun and interesting when you can. Langer references a Swedish campaign called “piano stairs,” in which the Volkswagen team revamped a subway station staircase to include sound-producing steps.

The goal: change the status quo and inspire pedestrians to take the previously vacant staircase instead of the often-frequented escalator. And, well, it totally worked. “Everybody forgets the escalator, and they’re all taking the stairs, because taking the stairs is now fun,” Langer recounts. 

How does this relate to your own happiness, you may ask? “Why wait for someone to put down the keyboard on the stairs? You can do this in your head. Everything can be fun, or enjoyable, or at least interesting,” she says. 

Now, you may not have the resources to install a keyboard on your home staircase, but the lesson here is more metaphorical. Simply make the mundane more interesting by switching things up. See, repetitive, everyday activities can easily feel like second nature, thus making them less joyful.

“If you were to do a crossword puzzle a second time, or you know the answers, that’s no fun,” explains Langer. Instead, switch up your daily routine and try to make even the smallest activities entertaining when you can. This is a mindset you can employ forever—a life-long, joy-producing habit, if you will.

How to make small tasks more fun

Simple: Combine dreaded tasks with something you enjoy. Say, playing your favorite podcast while you’re cleaning, imagining you’re on a cooking show while preparing dinner, and so on. More ideas here: 

  • Take mindful moments: If you’re enjoying a morning latte or a tasty breakfast, give yourself time to really savor it rather than multitask. You can even imagine you’re a food critic about to give your remarks.
  • Change up your routine: Sometimes repetitive activities can become a chore just because you have to do them often, like a daily commute to work. If you can, try to switch up these repetitive tasks. Take a new route, bring a friend, or complete the task at a different time than you normally do. 
  • Picking movement you enjoy: For folks who dread exercise, take some time brainstorming some kind of movement you enjoy and start there, rather than trying to force yourself to engage in an exercise routine you dread. Movement is movement, and you don’t have to engage in certain workout theories if you don’t want to in order to reap the benefits of exercise
  • Practicing gratitude: If nothing else, consider pairing an undesirable activity with some form of gratitude. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes reminding yourself that you have the physical, mental, or financial ability to complete a task can brighten your perspective.

The takeaway

Contribute to your own happiness by elevating mundane or sometimes dreaded activities, transforming them into creative ventures. According to Langer, these changes may just help you get through these tasks with a bit more joy. Craving more mindfulness tips? Check out Langer’s game-changing studies and tune into her podcast episode below.