How to Hold Onto Post-Lockdown Joy: Practice Gratitude

It’s proven to make you happier.,

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Celebrating Opening Day of the Dodgers’ season in Los Angeles in April.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

When pandemic rules began to loosen earlier this year, I felt a small burst of joy each time I did something that had been off-limits for months. With the rollout of the vaccines, once-mundane activities became almost wondrous.

Hugging my parents and friends. Getting a haircut. Wandering the aisles of the grocery store.

But as my new routine became, well, routine, that extra boost of pleasure faded away.

This, for better or worse, is human nature. We tend to adjust quickly to change, with our happiness levels returning to baseline even after major setbacks and achievements, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, told me.

It’s key to our success as a species. Adapting makes us resilient in the face of challenges, such as divorces and injuries, and keeps us striving for more after good things happen, she said.

But there’s a way to replicate that post-lockdown delight — by practicing gratitude.

Here was Lyubomirsky’s advice: Once a day, stop and appreciate what you’re able to do now that you weren’t last year. You can make a mental note, tell your partner, text your friend or write it down in a journal.

The method doesn’t matter, as long you’re making a deliberate effort to acknowledge that things have improved. This is a version of what psychologists call “savoring” — appreciating small things around us to try to increase happiness.

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Enjoying an evening in Dolores Park in San Francisco last month.Credit…Shelby Knowles for The New York Times

Over Labor Day weekend, while celebrating a friend’s birthday at a park in Los Angeles, I started a conversation about what we were doing at the same time last year. We realized that last September in L.A., there was a record-breaking heat wave, dangerously smoky air and the pandemic felt much scarier.

For a few moments at least, I felt thankful for what my life looks like now.

So while 2021 did not deliver the wild, carefree summer for which we’d hoped, chances are that you’re still leaving the house more than you were a year ago. And there’s room in that to be grateful, and happier.

Practicing gratitude is linked to fewer health problems and less depression, better sleep and higher levels of happiness. Feeling thankful for the little pleasures in our lives can add up to make us happier people overall, Lyubomirsky said.

Months from now, we might not be able to feel quite as good as we did the first time we returned to a restaurant or visited our relatives after being apart. But the pandemic can teach us how to find joy in small things that, without it, we may have overlooked.

For more:

As pandemic restrictions ease, take The Times’s 10-day challenge to learn new habits for mindful living.

Collective effervescence, a kind of happiness in groups, may be missing from our lives.

The Yale happiness class is one of the most popular in the university’s history.

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A homeless encampment on Venice Beach.Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The rest of the news

Housing crisis: After surviving the recall, Gov. Gavin Newsom is now free to focus on the state’s homeless population and housing shortage, with more room to maneuver than he did when he first took office.

Rental assistance: California has been slow to distribute rental assistance money for residents struggling during the pandemic, and risks forfeiting millions in federal funds, The Associated Press reports.

A warm autumn: The hotter-than-normal conditions that have contributed to severe drought in California and across the West are expected to continue into the fall.

Electric cars: The American cities that are friendliest to electric vehicles are San Jose and San Francisco, according to a new ranking.

Newsom’s future: The results of the recall, which once threatened to derail Newsom’s political career, have given the governor new optimism, The Associated Press writes.

Junipero Serra: Catholic leaders are pleading with Newsom not to remove a statue of Junipero Serra, the Spaniard who helped colonize California, from the grounds of the State Capitol, reports The San Francisco Chronicle.

Covered California director: Peter Lee, who has run the state’s health insurance marketplace for its entire nine-year history, said on Thursday that he would step down early next year, The Associated Press reports.

Think-tank appointee: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an influential Washington-based think tank, has appointed Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar of the California Supreme Court as its new president.

Covid-19 cases declining: Earlier this week, the C.D.C. adjusted its designation of virus spread from “high” to “substantial” in California, suggesting that the state might be turning a corner, according to The Washington Post.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Urban oil drilling: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to ban new oil wells, a move celebrated by environmental justice advocates, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Train service suspended: Train service was halted Thursday because of unstable ground along cliffside railroad tracks between southern Orange County and northern San Diego County, reports The Associated Press. The closure, which affects 43 Metrolink and Amtrak passenger trains, is expected to last through Oct. 3.

The Los Angeles Times: Hopes are high that Kevin Merida, the new editor in chief of California’s largest newspaper, can make its future brighter than its tortured past, reports Vanity Fair.

Sexual assault investigation: Prosecutors in Los Angeles have declined to pursue criminal charges against the rapper T.I. and his wife following an investigation into whether the couple sexually assaulted a woman in 2005, saying the 10-year statute of limitations had expired.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

Giant sequoias: Multiple forest fires are threatening some of the world’s largest trees in the Sierra Nevada mountains, reports The Associated Press.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

School vaccine rules: Next week, Oakland Unified School District and West Contra Unified will vote on whether to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for all staff members and students age 12 and older, reports The Associated Press.

Driving a meter maid car: Some San Franciscans are reclaiming former Go-4 and Cushman parking enforcement vehicles for transportation and personal expression. Outrageous decorations are a necessity.

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Credit…Christopher Testani for The New York Times

What we’re eating

In her latest newsletter, The Times’s California restaurant critic Tejal Rao shares three recipes for lentil dal.

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Credit…Shutterstock

Where we’re traveling

Today’s travel tip comes from Mimi Kramer, a reader who lives in San Diego. Mimi recommends visiting the small town of Julian in eastern San Diego County:

You can visit a historic hotel or tour a cidery. Not to mention get some of the BEST apple pie around.

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

Between the wildfires, pandemic and drought, this summer in California hasn’t been easy.

So with Sept. 22 marking the end of the season, I’m asking for you to share what has helped you make it through. Maybe it was a vacation you had postponed, a trashy TV show, a delicious meal you cooked or your nightly stroll.

Email me your favorite summer memory at CAtoday@nytimes.com along with your name and the city where you live. If you want to include a picture, please make sure it’s oriented horizontally.

And before you go, some good news

The winner of this year’s Del Mar dog surf competition — yes, it’s a real thing — was a pup from the “extra small” weight class.

Petey, a Westie and first-time entrant, beat out the bigger dogs to be named “Best in Surf,” reports the Times of San Diego.

See photos of Petey and the other competitors.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Like Jameson and Guinness (5 letters).

Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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