The Well-Being Diary
One of the best exercises you can do is the Well-Being Diary.
And, here’s the TL;DR: Use these printouts to make your own personal ‘happiness’ list, divided into the 4 elements.
As simple as it gets: list things that make you happy. It’s like the Well-Being Diary, without dividing into the 4 Elements.
From Element #1: Ephemeral Pleasures
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Simply list and acquaint yourself with your own typical ephemeral pleasures.
You can use the materialism scale to analyze your own levels of materialism.
The goal with this one is to list frequent pleasurable experiences that you could reference for savoring.
Get the Most ‘Happiness’ for your Money
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Try This: Scaffold and Sprinkle
Scaffold – Think of 3 people with whom you enjoy sharing meaningful experiences. They may be long-time partners, or newly forming friendships. Write them down.Now, for each person, write down a novel ‘fun’ experience you can use to foster shared connection, discovery, service, or expression. Some examples may be inviting them to attend a workshop together, or reading them their favorite children’s book.
Sprinkle – Think of 3 meaningful experiences you regularly have, or are going to have soon; especially ones shared with a friend or loved one. Write them down.Now, for each experience, write down a ‘sprinkling’ of Element 1 that you can add to the experience. Some examples may be adding a massage to your bedtime ritual, or preparing a tasty dessert for your next meal with friends.
Practice – 5 Minutes of Enjoyment
This is a simple habit to grow: harness 5 minutes of every day to build a practice of intentional enjoyment. Ideally, it will become a tradition that you have with yourself. Every day, ALLOW yourself, encourage yourself, and celebrate yourself embarking on this tradition.
Upon waking, think about your schedule for the day and choose a 5-minute period to devote to your own enjoyment completely. Basking in a sense of rapture and pleasure, this is a humble gift that you give yourself every day, to lift up your mental health and well-being.
You can bask in satisfaction as you walk outside in the sun. Or maybe today’s 5 minutes is enjoying your favorite latte with a sense of complete devotion.
Make these moments about the experience, not about the material items involved.
Over the long term, you will find yourself more able to lean into the positivity of these experiences, and you’ll anticipate and savor this little tradition with a sense of ownership and pride.
From Element #2: Flow & Engagement
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A step-by-step method for finding flow activities that fit you.
Try This: Find Those People
Do you already have a hobby or skill in which you find flow? If not, do the above exercise, and at least pick one that you suspect may interest you more after trying it.
Now let’s make it social! The chances are, there are communities of people into that same hobby. This may be where you find some new friends.
- Find and Join a few online groups for your hobby. Facebook and Meetup are useful resources for finding groups sharing a similar interest. Search, and if you live in a city you can even look for a local-based group. Google and Reddit can be useful search tools as well.
- Make it personal: reach out! You’d be surprised how welcoming people are to people who are interested in their hobbies. Sure, you can lurk on forums and watch other people interact, learning along the way, but make the social leap and ask direct questions to individuals in the group.“Hey, I saw your post in Quad-String Kite Flyers about thrifty kite finds. I’m looking to find an affordable first kite myself. I’m curious what you found out. My name is Joe by the way. Nice to meet you fellow kite flyer!” You have nothing to lose, and you may be shocked by the kindness of strangers.
- Go to social events. If you don’t know anyone, that’s ok. Be outgoing, and show up to a convention, meetup, or gathering with your best foot forward. Show humility and genuine interest, and you’ll likely find new friends that want to share the wonders of the world of (Insert Hobby Here.)
You can find a helpful list of tools and methods for meeting people on this page: New Friends (And How to Meet Them)
From Element #3: Perspective
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Practice: Emotion Labeling
This helpful, mindfulness-based exercise can be done at any time and place. We recommend re-visiting it regularly, and, once you feel fairly proficient, adding it to your toolbelt for when you’re facing difficult obstacles.
The action is simple. As you feel emotions, converse with yourself about what you’re feeling, as if looking at a map and locating/pointing out locations: “I am feeling angry,” or “this is frustrating” is all you need.
Research has shown that simply putting feelings into words can be a form of ‘implicit regulation.’ That is, it can attenuate our emotional experiences without actually feeling like emotion regulation.¹²
It’s important that, as you label your feelings, you don’t ruminate over them. The whole point of the exercise is to label, then move on without overanalyzing. This can get easier over time as you practice. Not only can you make a habit of labeling and moving on, but you can also gain greater literacy in the area of human feelings.
Exercise: Foster Equanimity by Breaking Negative Thought Patterns
We all struggle with negative thinking from time to time. This is an example of a break in equanimity. For example, we may get over-fixated on the sources of our stress, rather than solutions. Sound familiar? Though you may wonder if you’re crazy during such stress cycles, it is a normal aspect of human life and a result of our habitual nature and over-grasping for control.
This exercise is Martin Seligman’s ABCDE method for Learned Optimism, and it is one of the most powerful and practical methods for shifting from negative thought patterns to a positive focus. (Check out our section on Hope to learn all about Optimism)
Whenever you feel a cue for rumination brewing, grab a pen and paper and begin to write:
- Adversity – Write down what happened. What adverse circumstances occurred. You can do this in as little as one sentence, and be sure you’re writing the objective facts without any value judgments or subjective interpretations.
- Belief – Write down what stories and reactions this triggered in you. What did you end up thinking because of this? You can include negative self-talk, judgments, etc. here. Let the ego have its fearful say, uncensored.
- Consequences – What stemmed from having these beliefs? How did those thoughts affect your feelings and behavior? Give words to the feelings you’re experiencing.
- Disputation – Write a new story. You can list alternatives to why things may have happened that way, like “He may have been late because he wasn’t feeling well.” Also, challenge the usefulness of your prior narrative, and revisit the implications of what occurred. This step is where you look at the issue—AND your reaction to it—from various angles, at different scales, and with new consideration.
- Energization – How do you feel after the last step? Did your behavior change? How about your body? It’s encouraged here to celebrate positive shifts in feelings and behavior.
If you’d like a printout for this exercise, check out this one from our Hope section:
Exercise: Acceptance Meditation
Meditation is a simple and effective way to practice acceptance from moment to moment. This exercise is based on one from the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in their shared book The Book of Joy.
- Sit comfortably – Crossed-legged is a-ok, and in a chair is great too.
- Close your eyes and breathe – Notice the subtle sensations of breath in your nose and chest.
- Tune in to the surroundings – Notice what you hear around you. Experience the sounds of the environment. Let your awareness expand to include the busy, changing world.
- Tune in to your thoughts – Begin noticing that your own thoughts—especially reactions to sounds and sensations, or even other thoughts—is part of that environment.
- Let the thoughts float away – Remaining present in the moment, seeing these thoughts as external from yourself, simply observe them without judgment, and let them pass.
This basic Mindfulness meditation can be done almost any time, anywhere, and is great for practicing acceptance. For a more focused practice, continue to Part 2.
- Think of a situation that you’re having trouble accepting – It can be anything: a relationship issue, a cultural discomfort, etc. Start with one thing.
- Remind yourself that this is part of the nature of reality – This doesn’t mean to condone. Simply acknowledge that these painful challenges happen to us. They are part of your world, and part of life.
- Acknowledge that you cannot understand every factor that has led to this event.
- Accept that what’s happened has already happened – No matter how much or how often our mind would have us think, we can not change the past. We can only change how we relate to it.
- Tell yourself: “In order to make the best of this situation, for everyone and everything involved, I will accept the reality of its existence.”
Exercise: Reclaimed Choice as Compassion
We’re going to do something hard. Although, this is going to make the doing easier and easier.
Consider someone who has ‘hurt’ you in the past. It may be helpful to start with a person/scenario that doesn’t cut so deep. But do think of something that stings, and continues to upset you from time to time.
- Without including value judgments, recount what happened. Be strictly objective here.Think cold hard truth and facts only.Write it down, keeping it under one paragraph.
- Keeping your present self distance from this past experience, recount some of the ways you felt as a reaction to these events. Do your best to remove blame from the words used to describe your feelings. You can use this list of feelings to help.Again, write it. If you’d like to keep it simple, you can make this a small list of those feelings.
- Consider the other person. Think of them floating alone in a void. Nobody and nothing else is around them. It’s just them and their thoughts. Consider how they may experience fear and loneliness. Consider how they may be suffering internally. Now, imagine them with that suffering, growing old and frail. They wrinkle around the eyes and feel confusion as time passes. This is them and their suffering.Now, imagine yourself in a different void, also aging, suffering, living.Return to this other person’s void. Do this until any feelings of triumph or vindication are gone. It’s important to recognize this other person as an autonomous being, with their own life and their own suffering.Let yourself begin to feel the natural, solemn sense of benevolence that arises.The sympathy that you feel toward these two people, like your feelings from before, is also exclusively yours.Write down some of the feelings you are having now. You can be looser with your definition of ‘feelings’ here and list things like ‘caring’ or ‘concerned.’
Your experience is your choice. This is one among many tools that you can practice to hone your ability to choose how you reflect upon hardship. Compassion, like Forgiveness, needn’t be something you grant to others in an exchange of power. Rather, it is something you grant yourself by choosing.
From Lucent Emoting
Try This: 1-Day Positivity Diet
For a single day, put a positive filter on your normal media intake. Read news from one of these fantastic positive news sources.
Make a point for this single day to compliment each person you interact with. For every activity you engage with, wrap things up by reflecting on something you’re grateful for during that time.
Lastly, if a show or a movie can be part of your day, make it something unabashedly bright and sunny. There are some feel-good movies that seem hokey but are truly brilliant…**cough Paddington 2 cough**
From Element #4: Meaning
Note that there are many MANY more exercises for building meaning in life, sprinkled throughout respective sections. A good way to start building meaning in life is to start with the Cornerstones page.
Quick Exercise: Relationship Gratitude Sharing
Think of someone you appreciate. It could be a close friend or family member, a distant friend, or even an acquaintance that you’re fond of.
Get your phone out and send them a message. Don’t worry about overstepping or being ‘awkward.’ The truth is that people don’t say these things often enough, and almost everybody appreciates being appreciated.
Your message can be short and simple. Be sure to include WHAT it is that you appreciate about them. Giving them a ‘why,’ especially if it pertains to who and how they are, can really make a difference.
Here’s an example:“Hey Joan, I wanted to say thank you for being such a valued friend to me over this last year. Your lightheartedness is contagious and uplifting. I sense that this is a conscious choice that you make in service to others, and I want to recognize that gift you give. Thank you so much for who you are and for this friendship.”
Practice: One Check-In Per Day
Think of a time in your daily routine in which you can spend 5 minutes to send a message. Maybe it’s right before lunch, or shortly after waking up, or perhaps before going to sleep. The goal is to make a ritual of it.
During this time, send one person a simple message: let them know that you’re thinking of them. This may be a text or an email. Ask them how they are. It’s ok if it’s simple, as long as it’s sincere.
An example:“John! What’s up? I thought about you today while in the garden. How did that trip of yours go?” or “Hey Steph what’s new? It’s been a minute and I wonder how your life is going now that the leaves are changing color.”
Try This: Random Kindness Tracking
Grab a small notebook (a scrap of paper or two can also suffice) and commit it as your kindness tracker.As you think of random kindnesses you can do for people you know, jot them down here to help you remember. Consider projects and ongoing responsibilities of people you care about and how you may be able to help. And remember that these things don’t need to be huge. Simply greeting someone with a sincere smile that shows care and affection, or leaving an extra tip for your barista, can be meaningful.
As you do these acts of service, notice what happens to your mood. Write it down immediately after. The next day, reflect on the kindness and write down your feelings about it again.
Keeping a simple journal on this will equip you with a list of opportunities for simple ways to bring meaning and satisfaction to your days through serving others.
Try This: Quick Ways To Express Your Creativity
Make Temporary Art – We can face fear of expression because of the anxiety of how it will turn out. What about happily creating a transient work of art, for the sake of it? Consider making natural art for 10 minutes on your next hike, or drawing on a sidewalk with chalk on a walk. You can even do some quick sketches with the intention of burning them afterwards. Little creative moments like these can give you a bonus practice in non-attachment too. 🙂
Rearrange Your Furniture – Changing up your living space is not only a creative boost in Expression. It can also disrupt bad habits, and give a refreshing perspective. Rearranging familiar spaces can be a substantive reminder that nothing is permanent.
Write a Creative Letter – Hand-written letters aren’t dead! They’ve been promoted to a status of ‘extra considerate and special.’ Consider writing to some distant friends. On your letter, add extra color. It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. Express yourself subtly. Even the smallest touch of hand-crafted ornamentation will be received as a gift of time and consideration.
Practice: Love & Awareness
The following is adapted from The Book of Joy, a collaboration between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
- Consider somebody you love. It can be a family member, close friend, or even a pet. Close your eyes and imagine their image. Let yourself feel the love you have for them. Notice the effect of warmth and openness it creates in you. Notice even what you feel in your body while leaning in to these feelings.
- Imagine that person’s own desire to live well and avoid suffering. Reflect on their life as a will to achieve these goals. Put yourself in their shoes, having the experience of living and wanting peace.
- Now think of somebody that you know, but don’t know very well. It could be a coworker, acquaintance, or friend of a friend. Let yourself recognize how your feelings toward this person are different from the person before. That is ok. Even still, imagine being this person, living their life, their hopes and fears, and aspirations. Consider how, just like you, they wish to live happily, avoiding suffering. Dwell in this realization, understanding it as a special bond of love and awareness: shared humanity.
- Bring this awareness with you into the world. Whenever you can, remember this practice and revisit it. Live from this newfound connection, opening your heart to the people around you. Greet other people as if you are greeting part of your human family. Other people will sometimes ignore it. Empathize with them by considering the experience of loneliness you share. You may find that this simple practice grows your tendency toward kindness, compassion, and trust. As you open to the world in this way, it may open itself back.
Act Now: Meaningful Scheduling
This exercise is simple yet powerful. Write down your schedule—either tomorrow or next week’s. List as many things as you have planned. Then, add meaning! Consider how to embellish the tasks already on your list by adding elements of meaning. Use the 4 cornerstones as your guide: Service, Expression, Love, and Discovery. Small acts of service are especially powerful in the day-to-day.
- Write in “Send a thoughtful message to Jean” next to “morning coffee.”
- Offer to pick up the neighbors kids from school while waiting for my own.
- Create and sing a funk melody on my commute to work
- Write in my gratitude journal before picking up my toothbrush.
You can do this exercise on your own with simple pen and paper, or you can print out this template and repeat the exercise for future days or weeks: