The Happiness Exercises You've Never Heard Of
December 7, 2015 by Dr. Ryan Niemiec ·
It seems certain positive psychology exercises get all of the love and attention. This post is for those “under-appreciated” but highly effective strategies that you may not have heard of. I’ll also follow-up with the popular strategies for boosting happiness in a later post. But for now, here’s to the underdogs!
1.) Letter from the future
Write a letter from “your future self” to yourself in the present. In the letter, describe how positive your life is, the many goals you’ve achieved, and how you used your character strengths to get there.
2.) Prosocial spending
Identify a friend or stranger in need. Spend a small amount of money on them (e.g., a food purchase or a token item).
3.) Signature strengths at work
Examine your top 5 character strengths on the VIA Survey. Write about how you can use each of these in your average work-day. Be concrete and specific.
4.) Positive mental time travel
Before you to go bed at night, close your eyes and vividly imagine at least four positive events that could possibly happen the next day. See yourself using your character strengths in each event.
5.) Three funny things
At the end of the day, write down 3 funny things that happened to you that day and why these things occurred.
6.) Mental subtraction
Mentally take away a positive event in your life. Contemplate what your life would be like without one of the good things in your life, e.g., your health, a good relationship, a safe neighborhood, or a particular achievement. Write about how your life would be different without that good thing.
7.) Temporal scarcity
Make a conscious effort to realize how little time you have left before a scheduled end-point, such as your retirement, graduation, an upcoming surgery, etc. Write about the value and importance of your current situation and how time is scarce and precious.
8.) One door closes, another door opens:
Write about a moment in your life when a negative event led to unforeseen positive consequences. Write about this once a day for one week.
9.) Build up a lower character strength
While working with signature/higher strengths might be the optimal approach, research does show benefit (at least in the short-run) to trying to improve your lesser strengths in your VIA Survey (link is external) results. Use one of your signature strengths to give a boost to one of your lowest strengths.
10.) The gift of time
Offer at least three ‘‘gifts of time’’ this week by helping three different people in some way. These may be small or large acts but it’s important to do things that are outside of your planned activities for the week.
Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687–1688. http://dx.doi.org/ (link is external) 10.1126/science.1150952
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.
Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2014). The role of character strengths for task performance, job dedication, interpersonal facilitation, and organizational support. Human Performance, 27, 183-205.
Hoffman, R., Hinkle, M. G., & Kress, V. W. (2010). Letter writing as an intervention in family therapy with adolescents who engage in nonsuicidal self-injury. The Family Journal, 18, 24 –30. http://dx.doi.org/ (link is external) 10.1177/1066480709355039
Koo, M., Algoe, S. B., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). It’s a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1217-1224.
Kurtz, J. L. (2008). Looking to the future to appreciate the present: The benefits of perceived temporal scarcity. Psychological Science, 19, 1238 –1241. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02231.x (link is external)
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2014). Positive psychology interventions in people aged 50–79 years: long-term effects of placebo-controlled online interventions on well-being and depression. Aging & Mental Health, 18(8), 997-1005.
Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2015). Strengths-based positive psychology interventions: A randomized placebo-controlled online trial on long-term effects for a signature strengths vs. a lesser strengths-intervention. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 456. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00456
Quoidbach, J., Wood, A., & Hansenne, M. (2009). Back to the future: The effect of daily practice of mental time travel into the future on happiness and anxiety. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 349-355. http://dx (link is external) .doi.org/10.1080/17439760902992365