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How Glimmers Can Lift Our Spirits

By Kaye Olsson, I Start Wondering Columnist

Tulip in the Snow Photo by Kaye Olsson
Photo by Kaye Olsson

The holiday season is upon us which means we are constantly being bombarded by messages from advertisers, song lyrics, and Hallmark movies telling us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” For many, that may very well be true. But for others, the holidays are not quite as cheerful. Issues such as lost loved ones, financial worries, or family conflict can put a real damper on the holiday spirit. And, in my own personal case, lack of sunlight during the dark winter days creates an even higher likelihood of getting the blues.


So, what can you do if you are not exactly feeling merry and bright right now?


Something that helps me fight off the blahs is to look for daily “glimmers.” A glimmer is the exact opposite of a trigger—it is some kind of cue, either internal or external, that brings us a sense of joy or comfort. It can be anything from catching a whiff of your favorite smell to spending time with a pet.


The term “glimmer” was introduced in 2018 in the book The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation by licensed clinical social worker Deb Dana. She explains that our brains are constantly searching for cues to determine if situations are dangerous. Triggers are types of cues (accurate or not) that cause a fight-or-flight reaction in our body. Glimmers are also cues—but they result in feelings of safety and connection. 


Glimpsing Joy

Photo by Kaye Olsson
Photo by Kaye Olsson

We are all familiar with the saying, “It’s the little things that matter.” Well, as it turns out, that actually is true. Scientists behind a research initiative called the BIG JOY Project found that people who experience "micro-acts" of joy, or glimmers, at least once a day can boost their emotional well-being by approximately 25 percent throughout the course of a week. 


Examples of micro-acts of joy might include keeping a gratitude journal or engaging in acts of kindness for friends (or even strangers). Other examples could involve celebrating another person's success, engaging in self-reflection, or taking the time to identify the silver lining in a bad situation—known as positive reframing. All of these small actions have been linked to emotional well-being in prior published studies. 


We actually have more control over our own happiness than we realize. We can seek out glimmers by being mindful throughout the day, noticing those small moments of beauty or comfort as they occur. 


Another strategy is to commit intentional acts of joy. I often refer to this approach as “taking myself on a date.” Examples of my personal “dates” might include indulging in a hot mug of peppermint cocoa, driving past holiday light displays, or watching a sappy Christmas movie. By playing an active role in seeking out happy moments, we are able to influence our mood and have a positive impact on our emotional well-being. 


Taking Appropriate Action

Photo by Kaye Olsson
Photo by Kaye Olsson

It’s also important to point out what these small glimmers can NOT accomplish. They are certainly not a replacement for therapy or medications in cases of more serious conditions, such as depression. It’s also not appropriate to think that they can help overcome the struggles of someone whose basic needs, such as food or housing, are not being met. 


But seeking small bits of happiness throughout our day is still a useful tool. Many factors that cause us to feel stressed or sad are out of our control. So, looking for glimmers-- those small moments of joy--can give us something to hold onto and allow us to experience positive emotions, even if only briefly. 


At a time when global conflicts, political divides, and societal problems may seem insurmountable, can small acts of joy really help make a difference? I believe the answer can be found in the ideas of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who both spoke about how it's possible to feel joy even in the midst of suffering and to use that feeling to benefit ourselves and others. The hope is that the joy that emanates from glimmers may improve our general outlook and help spur us all to get involved in the greater good for our families, communities, or society at large.


During this holiday season, where can you find your own glimmers?


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1 comentario


Dorian Martin
Dorian Martin
17 dic 2023

Thanks, Kaye, for sharing this idea! I'm trying to look for more "glimmers" and often find them in nature, whether that's stopping what I'm doing to appreciate a butterfly, a dragonfly, a bee, a hummingbird, or my current glimmers, the joyful faces of pansies! But I also am finding glimmers in other places, including savoring a cup of ginger tea, working on needlepoint, or listening to music. Slowing down enough to appreciate these glimmers can be challenging--but so worthwhile! Here's to a life with more glimmers!

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