What Are 'Glimmers'? How These Mini Moments of Gratitude Can Boost Your Mood (and Change Your Life)

Noticing “glimmers” helps foster joy and calm your nervous system, psychologists say.

<p>Oscar Wong/Getty Images</p>

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Have you ever been on a long walk and noticed how the light is falling perfectly between the trees? Not only does it stop you in your tracks, but you actually notice that it’s making you feel good, so much so, that the thought quickly leads you to pause briefly in gratitude? If you’ve ever experienced that or something like it, chances are you’ve felt a “glimmer”.

Related: Adding Awe Walks to Your Day Could Improve Your Mood

What Are Glimmers?

“A glimmer is a psychological term because it is the opposite of a trigger,” defines Lee Phillips, PhD, psychotherapist  and certified sex and couples therapist. People who have experienced trauma may experience triggers, which are “painful memories that show up in the present, which can cause anxiety and depression” Phillips says. “Glimmers, on the other hand, can elevate your mood and provide you with a sense of calmness.”

The concept of glimmers has been made popular recently by TikTok users, as people on the platform document their own glimmers, as well as post explainer videos of how to begin to notice glimmers yourself.

But they’re actually a real thing and an accepted term in psychology. “‘Glimmer’ is a term associated with Polyvagal Theory, which is a theory clinicians often use to understand trauma and the impact on the nervous system,” says Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, PhD, psychologist and media advisor for Hope for Depression Research Foundation. “There have been several authors who have talked about Polyvagal Theory and, in particular,  Deb Dana, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), wrote about glimmers in her 2018 book The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy. This term then went viral on TikTok in 2022.”

Related: 27 Easy Mindfulness Activities to Feel Grounded Anytime, Anywhere

What Do Glimmers Look Like?

Lira de la Rosa says glimmers in everyday life are small, spontaneous moments where you feel calm, peaceful, present, joyful, or all of the above. However, how a glimmer looks can vary from person to person.

“For some people, it can be taking in the sunset or sunrise, thinking of their pet, seeing a photo of a safe and important person in their life, a smell that takes you back to a happy memory, seeing the leaves of the trees change during the seasons,” Lira de la Rosa says. “I find that all glimmers are personal glimmers because we all will experience them differently based on who we are, how we are feeling in that moment, and based on our lived experiences.”

Are Glimmers Good for You?

Because glimmers can help you feel more present, instead of stressed about the future, and calm and joyful, psychologists say they are good for you.

“Glimmers can improve your mood and desire for sex and increase your motivation to accomplish life goals,” Phillips explains. “Physical health benefits include calming the nervous system because they decrease anxiety. They can also help you sleep.”

When the body experiences triggers, the nervous system becomes dysregulated, and therefore, the body may enter “fight or flight” mode, which is a heightened stress state that has the body working in overdrive. Oppositely, “glimmers can be a small step toward helping your body and mind feel both safe and connected,” Lira de la Rosa says.

The more you notice and appreciate your unique glimmers, the more second nature it will become, and the habit circuit of noticing and accepting positivity, pleasure, gratitude, and joy in everyday life will snowball (in the best way).

Related: 7 Effective Ways to Relieve Stress Quickly, According to Experts

How to Notice Glimmers in Your Own Life

Everyone can notice glimmers—it’s about training yourself to check in with yourself and notice these feelings. “There is a component of mindfulness to glimmers,” says Lira de la Rosa. “When we’re in a mindful moment, we notice our thoughts and are aware of them without getting lost in them. We are also in a place where we notice our bodies and the sensations (temperature, tension, etc).”

It’s important to remember that glimmers can be both small and large. Even quick moments like noticing the breeze feels good on your face is a glimmer.

“I think that it’s important to note that it is OK if you read this and realize you haven’t experienced glimmers or haven’t noticed them happening,” Lira de la Rosa says. “It’s important for people to know that these experiences can truly vary for individuals. Since this term originated in Polyvagal Theory and trauma, I do want to note that trauma is more common than we think and can be very painful and challenging. Glimmers can help someone with a trauma history learn ways to experience safety and connection in their mind and body,” he says.

Phillips says practicing mantras can also help you tune into glimmers. Try incorporating these thoughts into your mindset (and feel free to modify to suit your circumstances):

  • “When I feel triggered and rejected, I will acknowledge that this feeling stinks, but I will not let it consume me. Rejection is redirection.”

  • “When I feel triggered and discouraged, I will be kind to myself and remind myself why I am trying. I will use that as my strength.”

  • “When I feel triggered and anxious, I focus on the present moment and take deep breaths to regulate my nervous system.”

You don’t have to chase glimmers; simply trying to notice and enjoy small moments is enough.

Related: 6 Everyday Habits to Train Your Brain to Be Happier

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