Improve Your Mood with This 2-Minute Exercise


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Would you be willing to spend two minutes doing a special exercise that could improve your mood and make your life a little (or a lot) easier?

No, this isn’t a gimmick that will get you off the hook for the kind of exercise that makes you breathe hard and sweat a lot. You’ll still have to do that. And it’s not going to make it a breeze to pass up temptations and stick to your food plan.

But this exercise might help you appreciate and enjoy these things–and the rest of your daily duties--a lot more, and avoid feeling sorry for yourself.

You don’t need an expert to tell you that a good mood is like money in the bank. It helps you let the many minor irritations and problems of your daily life roll off your back like water, and gives you the optimism, creativity, and stamina you need to handle whatever life throws at you.

But how do you get yourself into a good mood when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or so many little things are going wrong that you’d have to be unconscious or really snockered not to feel pretty anxious and upset?

The answer is simple: practice gratitude.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And if you’re trying to go from feeling down about your situation to feeling good about it, the shortest path is to be grateful for what you’ve got.

I have to admit that, for many years, this kind of claim drove me crazy. I was stuck in a very long, deep, and unpleasant struggle with major depression and PTSD that had already wrecked my marriage, my business, and left me living on disability benefits with 3 kids to support. To have someone tell me that I should find something to be grateful for struck me as either ignorant or cruel.

Then one day I was sitting in the lobby at my therapist’s office, running through all the problems I wanted to talk with her about that session, when a another client came in. She was carrying a baby, had a toddler in hand, and asked me if I could watch them for a second while she got the other kids out of the car. She came back in with two more young kids, sat down and started crying a little bit while trying to get the kids interested in playing with a few toys. She apologized and explained that she and the kids had just lost their apartment and were living in the car, after her husband had gone to jail for child and spousal abuse.

Well, I’m sure you can guess the rest of the story. I ended up telling my therapist I felt pretty silly getting all caught up in my own worries after hearing about this woman’s troubles, and was feeling grateful that my life wasn’t really as difficult as it could be.

I can’t tell you that this single incident “cured” my problems with depression and anxiety, but it definitely did change my thinking about the power of gratitude, and gave me a great tool I still use whenever I’m starting to feel a little down.

It’s incredibly simple. Just sit down for two minutes and think about what you have to be grateful for today. Come up with 3-5 things that make your life better than it would otherwise be at that moment, and write them down. These don't have to be big things--in fact, this will probably work better if you focus on little things that change from day to day. Putting the same things on your list every time will make the exercise less effective. So you might include something like being grateful for not having a headache, or enjoying your morning coffee that day, or having a pleasant moment with a family member or friend.

If you have the time, think for a minute or two about how and why you have those things in your life, and how to keep them there. If what you’re grateful for is having certain other people in your life, think about how you can let them know how you feel.

If life is pretty hard right now, this may feel a little artificial, trivial, or phony at first. But do it at least once a week anyway–fake it until you make it, if you have to.

If life is really hard today, and things to be grateful for don’t spring to mind, go spend an hour volunteering at the local food bank, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter–or anyplace where you’re likely to find other people having a hard time. Or get on the message boards at Sparkpeople or another site you’re involved in, look for someone else having a hard time, and say something encouraging to them.

The distance between a bad mood and a good mood often isn’t nearly as far as we think it is, and the shortest route is often to practice a little gratitude for what you already have.

You don’t have to take my word for it–there is lots of scientific research supporting the practice of gratitude. And there is a pretty large and active community of gratitude practitioners on the SP message boards you can talk to about this.

Why not give it a try yourself, right here, right now.

What do you have to be grateful for today?

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    I am a new member to Sparkpeople site. I have been dealing with depression and anxiety for the last 3 months that Made me feel "broken"and hopeless. I just finish reading your article "Improving Your Mood" - Practice Gratitude. Thank you. I will work to do the excerise. - 1/15/2015   10:44:01 AM
    I love this post... I come back to re-read it on particularly difficult days. Thanks, Coach. - 5/8/2013   12:55:24 PM
  • 342
    Years ago, I met a lady in a very similar situation. She's just lost her husband to a brain tumor, and was living in a hovel, with a family of skunks living under the floor providing "aromatherapy".

    I listened in amazement as she told me about the "Blessing Box" that she and her children had sitting on their kitchen table. Every time something happened for which they were grateful, they would write it down. When they began to feel discouraged, they would pull out one of their 'blessings' from the box and read it, discuss it, and relive it.

    Yeah, and I thought I had it bad.

    We have SO much to be thankful for!!!!! - 11/14/2012   1:32:00 PM
  • 341
    I can personally attest to the power of gratitude. In January I ended my long term relationship with my gf and then in April I lost my job. How I started climbing out of the dark period of grief was to do 2 simple things every day. One: write 3-5 things I'm grateful for on my calendar (I can then look at it week by week and see just how much I have to be grateful for even during this tough time) and Two: clean my kitchen sink (no clue why, but it felt good). Thanks for this blog. - 6/8/2012   1:47:11 PM
  • KMF2012
    What a wonderful way to start each day, and it will make me be looking at life from a totally different perspective. Instead of looking for things to complain about, I will be looking for things to be thankful for. And I know have thousands upon thousands of them, if I just take the right focus lens in life to see them. Thanks for the reminder! - 6/8/2012   10:03:59 AM
  • 339
    Theres a great TED talk on this and I've been doing it nearly every day since I saw it(about 3 monthsnow). It REALLY helps! - 5/23/2012   1:51:20 AM
  • 338
    I'm saying this without a trace of irony, even though ironic humor is sometimes my default, but:

    I'm really grateful I had the opportunity to read and think about this today!

    Thanks. - 4/4/2012   2:36:48 PM
  • 337
    I am grateful for very many things, but I need to acknowledge each and every one because I take my truly fortunate life for granted. I am surrounded by good, kind, loving people. So, on my to-do list, a short time out to remember all that is special each day. - 10/25/2011   9:28:39 PM
  • TSANC01
    Great Article, thank you for reminding me to be grateful for my health, my family, and my positive attitude. - 8/10/2011   9:13:06 AM
    Thank you so very much for sharing this SIMPLE WAY to move forward with not only with my weight loss goals but to find new ways to HELP ME HELP MYSELF. - 8/5/2011   3:29:01 PM
  • 334
    Just starting with sparkpeople and appreciate finding an online help that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. This is my grateful feeling for today. - 8/3/2011   1:05:02 AM
  • 333
    This article is amazing ..great food for thought..and inspiring us to be More grateful and thankful for the good things we're lucky to have...for me...Nice home
    with comfortable amenities..good husband..job...happy family life...and a great
    extended neighbourhood...The're many people without these simple
    things that are taken for granted...who're in dire straits all around the Globe!! - 7/3/2011   3:05:01 PM
    I am grateful that I am beautiful no matter what size I am. I'm grateful for the fact that I would never compromise my integrity no matter how unpopular it makes me. I'm grateful that I am selfless & compassionate. I am grateful that I am brave enough to stand up for beliefs. I am grateful to be me. I'm grateful that I can now run for 25mins. I'm grateful to be on good terms with my little sister. It breaks my heart whenever we fight. - 6/6/2011   5:05:23 PM
  • 331
    I am grateful for every breath I take. I am grateful for my husband 3 children, 8 grandchildren. I am grateful for the opportunity to go to school
    Thank you ! - 3/24/2011   1:23:45 PM
  • 330
    I'm grateful for my home, for living in Canada, for my job, for my health, for SparkPeople and for many of the other blessings God has given me. - 3/23/2011   12:52:56 PM
    This is so true i have learned this the hard way. i have gone through many difficult things in my life, but with a little faith and a lot of help from my creator I have gotten through it all. I am grateful just for another day of life and for my family. - 3/23/2011   10:44:39 AM
  • 328
    thanks so much for the inspiration. gratitude is essential to peace of mind. no matter how bad things are; someone somewhere may have it worse. - 3/10/2011   4:44:40 PM
  • 327
    Very inspiring article. Thank you! - 3/10/2011   11:11:19 AM
  • 326
    I'm grateful for Dr. Dean and SparkPeople... so very grateful! - 2/27/2011   8:19:21 AM
    I've heard this said before, but not quite this way...
    Very well written and very inspiring. - 2/16/2011   1:28:24 AM
  • 324
    This is probably the most important and valuable lesson I have ever learned. Thanks for spreading the word! - 2/16/2011   12:38:12 AM
  • 323
    I've been doing this for years... When I wrote them down daily, my cats were always on the list! =^.^= I'm grateful for my cats, my family, and the talent and ability to excel at my work, which includes some wonderful clients! - 2/14/2011   4:13:55 AM
  • 322
    I am grateful I get to do good work, I enjoy it, and I help people get control of their bodies and get back to enjoying them. - 2/11/2011   1:15:21 PM
  • 321
    I am grateful for my life, family, job and all that God has blessed me with. - 2/10/2011   2:45:01 PM
  • 320
    I'm grateful for this blog, my husband, my family and the beautiful sun that is shining today. Thanks - 2/10/2011   11:01:42 AM
    I'm grateful for taking the time to read this blog. Thank you!! - 2/10/2011   8:55:46 AM
    Grateful for the wonderful job that I have so that I am able to feed my beautiful girls... - 2/10/2011   6:38:30 AM
  • 317
    I am grateful for my brother who is always willing to help me with our 99 yr old father when he can. I am grateful for wonderful friends who are always there when I need them. I choose every day to look on the bright side and know that everything happens for a reason. Today I found out that a gift I had picked out for a friend had even more meaning than I realized-it was a beautiful bottle with a moon painted on it that I turned into a night lite and gave to a friend-today I found out her maiden name was Moon. Go figure-an inner voice told me to give this special bottle to her! Another friend today told me how thrilled she was with it. God evidently spoke to my inner spirit so that I made this gift just for her. I am still in awe tonite after finding this out. - 2/9/2011   7:28:04 PM
  • 316
    Very true. - 2/7/2011   3:18:07 PM
  • 315
    I started keeping a gratitude journal last year and I am grateful for all the positive effects it has had on my life and my outlook. I encourage everyone to try this simple yet intensly powerful technique - 2/6/2011   8:51:23 AM
  • 314
    I amm thankful today for reading this blog. Thiis just made my morning a little bit better and a tip I will use frequently. Thank you. - 2/5/2011   10:35:00 AM
    Thank you for this wonderful article. It came when I was needing it most. I have struggled with depression and I know this works. Thank you again for the reminder. - 2/5/2011   7:27:18 AM
  • LINDA5758
    How true. I really can relate to being greatful for what wew all ready have. I have learned so much from SP since I joined. I don't let little things bother like I use to. I live each day as one day at a time. I truly do love to be in this group. Thanks everyone. - 12/8/2010   6:59:08 PM
  • 311
    What a fantastic article from Dean, and an equally fantastic comment from DawnMarieYoung.
    You have both shown us how deep our own suffering can take us in ignoring what is happening around us. And you both found someone who let you start to believe in gratitude and goodness. I am honoured to have read the comments made by each of you.

    Today I was able to watch a grey heron standing on the ice in the local river.
    Today I had a phone call from my older son and we had a lovely chat, without really touching on his business or my health.
    Today I had my husband come home safe after skidding on a couple of roundabouts this morning on his way to work.
    And today, I read Dean's blog, and DawnMarie's comment.
    - 12/7/2010   5:02:36 PM
  • 310
    I'm grateful for this blog post! - 12/7/2010   2:22:34 PM
    I am grateful for the magic of living.
    The marvelous breath I inhale and exhale through my nose.
    My wonderful mind, whom God above has blessed me with.
    My family.
    All my friends. - 12/7/2010   11:52:29 AM
  • 308
    I am so grateful to God for the family He has given me, whether they are perfect or not. I thank Him for the precious moments I had with those who have gone on before me. I have been Blessed with so many wonderful friends who have been with me through good and bad times. I thank God for carrying me when I did not have the strength to carry myself. - 12/7/2010   7:41:16 AM
  • 307
    I am grateful for everything that surrounds me. - 12/6/2010   9:18:43 PM
  • 306
    I am grateful for everything that surrounds me. - 12/6/2010   8:54:31 PM
  • 305
    I am grateful that we have a small, but paid for, home to live in, it's warm and comfy, but not fancy. Food in the kitchen, mostly healthy food at that!! And an old exercise bike in the living room that my husband and I use each day for at least 3 hours each, which helps us with our health. - 12/4/2010   9:43:40 PM
    I'm grateful I found spark people!
    Also that I bought 500 lbs of rock salt today, by way of a friend.(snows coming)
    I'm grateful someone else removes my snow, although I pay!
    I'm grateful I had a cup of frenchpressed coffee today(a rare treat for me,the coffee)
    And all the little things I can be grateful for tomorrow... - 12/3/2010   11:50:43 PM
  • 303
    I decided yesterday to write a gratitude list as part of my blog everyday for a year. Hoping it will help keep me active too. I am just coming back after being gone for 9 months or longer. It is helping keep my mood up. Trying to get the blood sugar under control too!!!
    Andi - 12/3/2010   9:05:46 PM
  • 302
    Did you get this from Oprah? Doesn't matter...great blog! I try to remember to ALWAYS do this. - 8/15/2010   2:46:05 PM
  • NJ_HOU
    It is an old saying i learned in 9th grade --- A thankful heart is the beginning of all virtue. To which Cicero attributed to older sayings he had heard but would help you grow... I tried to apply this phil and found it was true - 5/1/2010   10:00:47 PM
  • 300
    I DO PRACTICE Gratitude on a daily basis thru prayer with my 2yr old girl at the end of the day and written after each day as well!! My ATTITUDE is Gratitude - Actor, Bernie Kopel .... I THANK GOD each and EVERYDAY for the TWO BEST THINGS in my life -- my WONDERFUL HUSBAND and my BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER whom I tried so hard to conceive after 2 miscarriages -- AMEN! :) It is IMPORTANT to be GRATEFUL EACH DAY so we don't lose track of the IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE and simple things, like a roof over our heads and food to eat and family!! Some poeple have NONE of these BASIC things at the end of their day and they're all alone, hungry and living with no shelter.... - 4/28/2010   10:08:43 AM
  • 299
    thanks for sharing your "Tip" It was great to read it. I have always said make a list of your troubles and then next to it write your blessings and be honest pretty soon you will see that the blessings far out weigh the troubles. I am so truely blessed . - 4/27/2010   12:47:20 PM
  • 298
    I agree with your philosphy. Every day at bed time, I think about my day and thank God for all the little things that made my day happier, easier, more successful. It's amazing how little things can make you feel better and everyday we take so much for granted. - 4/26/2010   7:32:12 PM
  • 297
    Excellent advice!
    I'm grateful for my terrific parents, 2 great kids, a supportive husband, great colleagues and all the terrific kids I teach. - 4/26/2010   1:36:42 PM
  • 296
    I am grateful for ALL THINGS GREAT & SMALL!!!! - 4/26/2010   12:54:13 PM
  • 295
    I feel there is good in everything some times you have to really look for it but it is there. A person can focous on the negative or the postive, you will be much happer if we work on the postive. - 3/28/2010   7:55:39 AM

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