1 Day Drill

One of the most direct ways to increase happiness is to do more of the things that make us happy. But when life gets busy, we don’t always remember to make time for enjoyable activities. Intentionally scheduling a variety of enjoyable activities into the day can help overcome this barrier to happiness.

This exercise prompts you to engage in a variety of activities associated with happiness and reflect on how they make you feel. Different kinds of activities bring different kinds of satisfaction, all of which contribute uniquely to happiness. Research suggests that variety and novelty in daily activities is an important component of happiness, so trying a number of different activities can prevent you from getting so used to any one activity that it ceases to bring you pleasure.

This exercise is best completed on a day (or two) when you have a lot of free time, such as on a weekend. Step two may require some advanced planning with others. In the morning when you first wake up, review the following instructions and make a plan for the day.

  1. Choose an activity that you enjoy doing alone, such as reading, listening to music, watching a TV show, or meditating. Set aside some time during the day to complete this activity.
  2. Choose an activity that you enjoy doing with others, such as going out for coffee, going for a bike ride, or watching a movie. Set aside some time during the day to complete this activity.
  3. Choose an activity that you consider personally important and meaningful, such as helping a neighbor, calling to check in on a sick friend who is sick, or volunteering for a local charitable organization.
  4. At the end of the day, record what occurred during and after each of your three activities. What did you do, and how did it make you feel? Did different activities make you feel different kinds of happiness? What feelings or associations linger with you now, after you have completed all of the activities?

Seeking happiness through pleasurable, engaging, and meaningful activities was found to predict life satisfaction in a sample of 845 adults. Activities that involved deep mental engagement or meaningful pursuits were more strongly associated with happiness than pleasure-seeking activities, but the combination of all three types of activity was associated with the highest levels of life satisfaction.

Engaging in a range of activities can prevent “habituation,” which is the tendency to get used to things that we do regularly—and thus derive less satisfaction from them. What’s more, research suggests that combining activities that are related to different kinds of happiness (e.g., pleasure-based happiness vs. meaning-based happiness) can promote greater overall happiness than focusing on only one kind of happiness. Reflecting on enjoyable activities at the end of the day can make us more likely to store those experiences in memory and derive pleasure from them later on.

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10 Minutes Drill: “Better Things in Life”

In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the things that go wrong and feel like we’re living under our own private rain cloud; at the same time, we tend to adapt to the good things and people in our lives, taking them for granted. As a result, we often overlook everyday beauty and goodness–a kind gesture from a stranger, say, or the warmth of our heater on a chilly morning. In the process, we frequently miss opportunities for happiness and connection.

This practice guards against those tendencies. By remembering and listing three positive things that have happened in your day–and considering what caused them–you tune into the sources of goodness in your life. It’s a habit that can change the emotional tone of your life, replacing feelings of disappointment or entitlement with those of gratitude–which may be why this practice is associated with significant increases in happiness.

Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you that day, and provide an explanation for why they went well. It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head. The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “my co-worker made the coffee today”) or relatively large (e.g., “I earned a big promotion”). To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful.

As you write, follow these instructions:

  1. Give the event a title (e.g., “co-worker complimented my work on a project”)
  2. Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
  3. Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
  4. Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.
  5. Use whatever writing style you please, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling. Use as much detail as you’d like.
  6. If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.

People performing this exercise expressed that writing about three good things was associated with increased happiness immediately afterward, as well as one week, one month, three months, and six months later.By giving you the space to focus on the positive, this practice teaches you to notice, remember, and savor the better things in life. It may prompt you to pay closer attention to positive events down the road and engage in them more fully—both in the moment and later on, when you can reminisce and share these experiences with others. Reflecting on the cause of the event may help attune you to the deeper sources of goodness in your life, fostering a mindset of gratitude