Being thankful for the good things, however small or big, is one good way to be positive and see that reflected in a happier mood in yourself and others. Gratitude has been cited as a resource for fighting depression and improving mental health, according to studies by former American Psychological Association president, Martin Seligman.
Seligman had more than 500 participants, some of whom were diagnosed with depression, in one of his studies where they completed these simple exercises daily. The participants consequently reported either increased happiness, relieved depressive symptoms or large positive changes.
Let’s take a look at the simple stress reduction exercises from the study and how we can integrate them in our everyday lives.
What are these exercises about?
The exercises, it is proposed, touch upon one of the three components of happiness: positive emotion, engagement and meaning. Positive emotion involves our desires to feel good about the past (looking back at experiences with satisfaction and gratitude), present and future (looking at potential experiences with hope and confidence) for the longest time possible. Positive memories have been linked to feelings of happiness and can defend against depression. The second component, engagement, indicates deep involvement in your work, leading to absorption of your total attention (think enjoyment) in the activity.
In addition, lack of engagement has been correlated and causally linked to depression. We pursue meaning, the third component, by using our signature (or top) strengths “to belong to and serve something that one believes is bigger than the self,” as Seligman elegantly writes. In other words, the pursuit of meaning through the use of our best abilities for a bigger purpose that we identify with gives us a sense of satisfaction and happiness.
Keep a journal of good events
We featured Memiary as a simple web app that only records five things or events of your day. In this somewhat-similar stress reduction exercise, you list 3 things that not just happened but also went well, and elaborate a bit more on each by adding why you think the event went well.
You can easily list the three events in Twitter (maybe you can even spread the word about the exercise with hashtags) or Facebook status or post on Facebook Notes or your blog. This exercise explores the gratitude concept once again and aims to make the writer become aware of the numerous opportunities that we constantly may overlook or take for granted.
Carefully list your top 5 strengths and ways to use them daily
This is also another good exercise for you to complete on your blog. Learning about your strengths can help you learn about the activities where you might become engaged at, and thus, enjoy with enough practice. Visit authentichappiness.org for a list of character strengths.
What would you like your biography to say?
Imagine that an author is writing your biography. What would you like it to say? Spend some time writing about what you would like to be remembered for the most. In the chapter of the book discussing a time when you were at your best, what strengths of yours would you like to be mentioned? Review and reflect on those strengths for a week. Then blog about it someplace.
Say “Thank You”
Express your gratitude to someone to whom you are very grateful but have not thanked properly. Craft that person a letter about how much you appreciate his or her kind gesture. If you can, deliver it to him/her over the phone or in person.
If perhaps you aren’t so sure about writing someone a thank-you note, get inspired by jumping into others’ unbelievable tales on Thanks-O-Meter or ThankfulFor. These sites feature a heaping collection of positive experiences that inspire you to become a poet for a day.
Other non-writing stress reduction exercises and activities that can help improve your mood
- React with positivity and enthusiasm to good news from someone you know once a day. It might inject you with good mood and it may also just make that someone’s day.
- Pick something that you usually rush through (e.g. taking a shower, walking to class) and take your time to complete and enjoy it once a day, alternating activities if you wish. Write about how you did the activity differently and how it felt compared to when you rush through it.
Interested in more Psychology studies? Find a ton of interesting articles on the Web.
Do you recommend writing as a therapeutic outlet? Why or why not? Voice your suggestions for de-stressing in the comments!