Use this simple gratitude exercise to put yourself in a better mood in as little as two minutes per week.
Really good moods are like gold dust. They bring optimism, laughter, creativity and sheer joie de vivre. Good moods help us bear all the daily irritations of life with good grace.
Psychological research agrees. Positive emotions are associated with greater creativity, increased problem-solving ability, and greater overall success in life (here’s 9 ways happiness leads to success).
So here’s one way to quickly and sustainably improve your mood: practice your gratitude. This post first covers the evidence that a simple gratitude exercise, if persevered with, can improve mood. After the evidence is an explanation of how to carry out this exercise.
Three recent studies support the use of gratitude in improving mood:
- Emmons and McCullough (2003) were surprised to find that happiness could be increased by a simple gratitude exercise. Participants took the time to write down 5 things they were grateful for each week, for 10 weeks. At the end of the study this group were 25% happier than a comparison group who simply listed five events from the week.
- Lyubomirsky et al. (2005) compared practising gratitude three times a week with once a week. They found that only those who carried out the exercise once a week were happier. This suggests overdoing the gratitude is not beneficial – perhaps because of habituation.
- Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson (2005) carried out a randomised, placebo-controlled study. They followed participants up 6 months after they had begun carrying out a simple gratitude exercise and found they were happier and less depressed than a control group. In this study, though, participants initially wrote about what they were grateful for every day for a week.
Convinced by the research? Well, even if you’re not, the beauty of this exercise is that it’s so easy that it shouldn’t even be called exercise. All you need is enough time – as little as two minutes – to think of three things that you are grateful for: that benefit you and without which your life would be poorer. Then, if you’ve got time, you can think about the causes for these good things. And that’s it.
The danger is that this exercise seems so trivial that it isn’t worth doing. But consider this: people are constantly worrying about things they don’t have or things that haven’t happened, consequently they rarely take stock of the beneficial things that they do have and good things that have already happened. If it’s possible for even the simplest negative thought to provoke a change in mood, then why not a positive grateful thought as well?
If you find it difficult to get going, here are some suggestions for things, but it’s better to think of your own:
- I don’t have a headache today.
- I had a good lunch.
- I have my family.
- My new socks keep my feet warm.
- I made a joke and people laughed (got to take whatever I can get!).
…some of these are on the trivial side but no grain of thankfulness is too small once you’ve exhausted the usual suspects.
You can try experimenting with carrying out this exercise weekly or even daily depending on how you feel. If the exercise starts to lose its power this could be because of habituation – try to be creative with your gratitude. I’ll be posting on PsyBlog next week to remind you to exercise your gratitude (and to remind me as well!).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.