What Matters Most?

Using your strengths to impact well-being

7 New Exercises to Boost Happiness

Make a positive impact on your holiday season.

New research on positive psychology exercises has found a number of ways to give your happiness a boost and lessen your depression. If you are trying to manage your stress better, lift some of the holiday blues, or simply become a bit more happy, pick one of these 7 exercises and try it for a 1 week.

  • One door closes, another door opens: Consider a moment in your life when a negative event led to positive consequences that you were not expecting. Write about this each day.
  • Gift of time: Offer the “gift” of your time to three different people this week. This might be in the form of time spent, helping someone around their house, or sharing a meal with someone who is lonely. These “gifts” should be in addition to your planned activities.
  • Counting kindness: Keep a log of all the kind acts that you do in a particular day. Jot them down by the end of each day.
  • Three funny things: Write down the three funniest things that you experienced or participated in each day; also write about why the funny thing happened (e.g., was it something you created, something you observed, something spontaneous?)
  • Gratitude letter/visit: Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has had a positive impact on you. If feasible, you might consider delivering the letter to the person. [It is important to first weigh the pros and cons of delivering such a letter.]

  • Three good things: Jot down three things that went well for you each day and give an explanation as to why these good things occurred.
  • Use your signature strengths in a new way: This is the most popular of all positive psychology exercises. Take the VIA Survey that asks you about your character strengths. Choose one of your highest strengths (your signature strengths) and use it in a new way each day. For tips on how to use any of the 24 character strengths in a new way, go here.


Caveats

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  • If you don’t like the idea of writing these exercises out, consider having a planned discussion each day for a week about the exercise with someone in your life.

  • Make sure you practice the exercise for a full week. Take notice of the impact it has.

 

References

Study noted above:

Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2012). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Related studies and sources with similar exercises:

Mitchell, J., Stanimirovic, R., Klein, B., & Vella-Brodrick, D. (2009). A randomised controlled trial of a self-guided internet intervention promoting well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 749–760.

Mongrain, M., & Anselmo-Matthews, T. (2012).Do positive psychology exercises work? A replication of Seligman et al. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68(4).

Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2013). Positive psychology at the movies 2: Using films to build virtues and character strengths. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K., & Fredrickson, B. (2006). Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindness intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3), 361–375.

Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rashid, T., & Anjum, A. (2008). Positive psychotherapy for young adults and children. In J. R. Z. Abela & B. L. Hankin (Eds.), Handbook of depression in children and adolescents: Causes, treatment, and prevention (pp. 250–287). New York: Guilford.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.

 

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., is the education director at the VIA Institute on Character.

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