Be happy: “Happiness training” with three simple exercises

Happiness can be trained, says trainer Michael Stief. He explains how three simple practices can lead to lasting happiness. Set aside 20 minutes for each of the four days.

Luck is not a matter of chance: just like with dancing, singing or music, it takes practice to develop skill and fitness. Only then is the joy that these activities can give established. In the case of happiness, it is necessary to develop the mental aptitude to be able to walk the path of happiness with all the energy. Three exercises have been shown to be particularly effective.


1. The exercise of gratitude helps to recognize the good things


The gratitude exercise helps you register and acknowledge the happiness you are experiencing. In my experience, people who believe in a personal God, such as Jews, Muslims, Christians, or others, find it easier to be grateful. Traditional thanksgiving prayers are often part of religious practice. Also, they can thank their God for the good they have experienced instead of being thankful for an abstract coincidence. But believers, like everyone else, have to cross the threshold of what is taken for granted and recognize the good that is there.

The warm bed you wake up in, the roof over your head, the coffee you drink for breakfast, the food in the fridge, and the good weather on your doorstep – all of this is non-standard compared to eight billion people. Gratitude, then, is the conscious act of acknowledging that something is not self-evident but good, and that it can be practiced.

Many creeds and religions know the prayer of thanksgiving. Positive psychology has packaged exactly this prayer of thanks into a neutral exercise:


The gratitude exercise is that simple.


  • Every night for a week, write down three good things that happened that day.
  • Assign a title to each positive event.
  • Describe the event in a few lines in more detail.
  • Record what you yourself have contributed to it.

For example, you could give thanks for a good meal because instead of going to the nearest chip shop, you went to the organic market a little further away. It doesn’t matter if you write these things by hand in a journal or write them on your computer or mobile phone. The important thing is that you actually do it for a week or more.

But the deciding factor is: How does this exercise work? Martin Seligman and colleagues tested this against unstructured diary keeping and examined the effect on the psyche. This gratitude exercise, even when used once a week over a six-month period, has a demonstrable mood-enhancing effect that corresponds to the administration of low-threshold antidepressants.



2. The self-empathy card buffers frustration


The Self-Empathy Chart helps to recognize and emotionally process obstacles and pressures that reduce happiness, instead of ignoring or repressing them.

In times of stress, pressure, or conflict, sometimes it’s best to open your heart to a friend. And expressing all the frustration and fear, anger and sadness. At best, he will experience acceptance, understanding, and comfort in this conversation. Only such an emphatic friend, to whom you can express all your suffering, is not always available.

What is readily available and equally effective is pencil, paper, and the willingness to express and reflect on one’s feelings and thoughts rather than repressing them. An effective way to do this is what is known as a self-compassion letter. Psychologist Kristin Neff developed this strategy and has proven its effectiveness.


How to write a self empathy letter


  • F Focus on a specific situation in your life that is bothering you.
  • It does not matter if this situation involves internal or external conflicts.
  • Take a quarter of an hour and write down all the thoughts and feelings that move you.
  • Optional: Put yourself in the position of a benevolent friend who discusses your situation nonjudgmentally, but with empathy and understanding.
  • Keep writing even when your mind wavers, repeats or wanders.
  • Repeat this exercise for four days.


3. The positive vision of the future

Gratitude and self-empathy help us get into a positive state by focusing on what is already going well or helping us control our feelings.

On this basis, we can more easily develop positive ideas for the future: stressful emotions or stress reduce our focus. Positive states broaden our perspective and facilitate access to resources such as creativity or flexibility. The positive image of the future helps to concretely imagine the happiness that could arise through your own actions, external support and favorable developments.


Writing practice helps


It will no longer be a surprise that we can also practice such positive images of the future, and that in turn through a corresponding writing exercise. It was developed under the name “My Best Self” by psychologists King, Burton, and Sin and tested against pure journal notes.

Test persons were required to write down over a fixed period of time on several consecutive days how their life might develop positively from the current situation in a specific area to a specific point in time in the future. It was more important to stay in the flow of writing, and therefore in the attitude of a positive idea, than to develop a perfect plan. The result of these exercises was that the test subjects felt significantly better.

It is striking that this exercise already contains the essential criteria for effective goal setting according to the SMART formula: this writing exercise leads to specific, compelling and time-bound pictures of the future that can be further developed into measurable and realistic goals.


This is how you do it


  • Reserve 20 minutes.
  • Optimally on four consecutive days.
  • Choose an area of ​​work life or private life.
  • Set a time period (one, five or ten years).
  • Put yourself in your mind at a specific place and time in the future.
  • Visualize this situation with all your senses.
  • And then imagine that the chosen area of ​​​​life has been developed optimally, in the best possible way, through the use of your personal strengths, the use of opportunities, through the support of your environment and the necessary pinch of luck. (accidental). .
  • Then write down for 15 to 20 minutes everything that has evolved positively and how you feel.
  • If you can’t think of anything right now, keep writing anyway and express any questions, thoughts, or feelings that are going through your head.
  • After writing, save your notes.
  • Repeat this exercise in other areas of your life for the next three days.


This is how happiness training works in practice


As you can see, none of the exercises presented is “rocket science”. However, each individual and also the common basic idea of ​​expressive writing is scientifically sound and proven.

It makes sense to combine these three exercises into a single workout that trains gratitude, emotional management, and hope in sequence. Twenty minutes are recommended for each exercise.

The exercises get to the heart of the matter by asking three simple key questions:

  • What am I thankful for?
  • Why am I feeling pain, fear, anger, or rejection?
  • What would a future look like where I am truly happy?

It makes sense to ask these questions in general or in relation to specific topics. These can be different areas of life, such as work and private life, as well as different relationships with yourself, family, and friends, or facets of happiness, such as meaning and success.


miguel step (58) is an expert in positive communication, teamwork and leadership and founder of the POSITIVE HR consulting network. MANAGEMENT (positive-hr.de)

This article was written by Michael Stief

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