Chade-Meng Tan is an award-winning engineer who joined the team at Google in its early stages. In tech circles, he's known for his role in developing Google's mobile search function, but inside the search giant, he's probably better known for the mindfulness classes he began teaching to other employees. These classes became so popular that Tan transitioned from his role as engineer to the job title of Google's Jolly Good Fellow.
In his most recent move, Tan left Google to head a mindfulness institute aimed at helping corporate types lose the stress and find the joy in life. In his new book, "Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within," Tan wants to show others how he moved from a life in which he was "constantly miserable" to a life filled with happiness.
How did he make such a life-altering transition? Tan says he learned how to be happy the moment he realized his mindset was completely within his control. And to change his mindset, all he needed was this simple three-second trick:
Notice the little things that bring you joy.
OK, that sounds a little simplistic, but Tan argues that when we begin to notice the little things throughout our day that make us happy — whether it's a cool sip of water when we're feeling thirsty or a warm feeling of sun on a cool day — those things start to add up, and before we know it, we have a whole new perspective through which we seek out and notice the joy already present in our lives.
Tan calls these moments of happiness "thin slices of joy" because they are just a few seconds each — tasting that first sip of coffee in the morning, hearing your daughter belly laugh when the dog does something silly, stepping from a cold blustery day and into a toasty-warm room. And when you start to notice those moments more thoroughly and string them together, you realize your day is much more joyful than when you let those moments pass you by.
"Thin slices of joy occur in life everywhere… and once you start noticing it, something happens, you find it’s always there. Joy becomes something you can count on," Tan says in the book.
Tan explains his theory in this CBC interview:
It may sound like a bunch of fluff, but Tan's secret to joy is actually based on neurological research about how we develop habits. His three-second trick is based on a trigger (the thin slice of joy), a routine (the moment we notice that joy) and a reward (the time we spend savoring the joy).
“Noticing sounds trivial, but it is an important meditative practice in its own right," Tan writes. "Noticing is the prerequisite of seeing. What we do not notice, we cannot see."
Tan's words echo those of other experts, notably the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, two world-renowned spiritual leaders who recently co-authored their own book on finding joy, "The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World." In that book, the authors emphasize the power of finding the joy within ourselves and spreading that joy to others.
Three seconds to a happier, more joy-filled life? Everybody has time for that.