Psychologists have developed numerous written exercises that you can do at home to increase your happiness. Here are 10 of the best ones. These exercises can be done on paper or electronically, and all are based on at least one research study.
Make a “good things” log
At the end of each day, write down three good things that happened each day and why they happened. Don’t just look for big things — they can be as small as seeing a beautiful flower, someone holding a door for you, or the bus being on time.
Start a gratitude log
Write down five things you are grateful for every morning. If you can’t think of anything, think smaller. How about internet access, having a roof over your head, or access to clean water?
Keep a laughter log
At the end of the day, write down three funny things that happened that day. The idea is to make yourself more attuned to your positive experiences. When you find yourself thinking “That’s funny, I’ll put that in my log tonight,” you know it’s working.
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Define your ideal life
Over the next three days, spend 20 minutes per day writing about your ideal life, 10 years from now. What are you doing? Where do you live? Who is in your life? This exercise helps you form goals and find direction.
Try disclosive writing
Spend 20 minutes writing about a difficult experience you had. Again, the experience doesn’t have to be a big one — if could just be a minor embarrassment that keeps going over in your mind. Forming a narrative about a negative experience helps you understand it and reduces its power over you.
Write about an intensely positive experience for 20 minutes, every day for three days. How you define “intensely positive” is up to you. As you do this, try to evoke the emotions you felt at the time.
Write a gratitude letter
Direct it to someone who you appreciate, expressing how they have helped you and your gratitude for this. You don’t have to actually send it if you don’t want to.
Define your best possible self
Spend 10 minutes writing about yourself as you would like to be. Focus on yourself, your personality, behavior, and habits. Don’t worry about life circumstances like your job or where you live for this one (see Exercise 4 if you want to write about that).
Write a self-compassion letter
Choose an insecurity or inadequacy you believe you possess. Then imagine a completely accepting, non-judgemental, perfectly supportive friend. Write yourself a letter from the perspective of that friend, trying to make you feel better about this perceived flaw.
Change your relationship with setbacks.
Think about a time when a negative event led to a positive outcome, and write about it for five minutes a day for one week. This is to help you see that failure is not always a bad thing.
The first three exercises are “logs.” These work by changing your habitual thought patterns. The key to these is long-term consistency — do them every day for at least a month, ideally longer. Just do one at a time — you can change to another one as long as you keep to the one-month minimum.
The final seven exercises work by changing how you think about a certain experience or person. The key to these is focus — be present and concentrate on the exercise, don’t just breeze through it mindlessly. You can do these whenever you like – one per month, one per week, back-to-back – it’s up to you, but again just do one at a time.
These exercises take a bit of effort, but if you persist, you’ll see a positive impact over time.