The SparkPeople Blog

Improve Your Mood with This 2-Minute Exercise

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
12/16/2008 12:09 PM   :  343 comments

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 isnít a gimmick that will get you off the hook for the kind of exercise that makes you breathe hard and sweat a lot. Youíll still have to do that. And itís 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 thingsĖand the rest of your daily duties--a lot more, and avoid feeling sorry for yourself.


You donít 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 youíd 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 youíre trying to go from feeling down about your situation to feeling good about it, the shortest path is to be grateful for what youíve 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 therapistís 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, Iím 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 womanís troubles, and was feeling grateful that my life wasnít really as difficult as it could be.

I canít tell you that this single incident ďcuredĒ 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 Iím starting to feel a little down.

Itís 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 youíre 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 anywayĖfake it until you make it, if you have to.

If life is really hard today, and things to be grateful for donít spring to mind, go spend an hour volunteering at the local food bank, soup kitchen, or homeless shelterĖor anyplace where youíre likely to find other people having a hard time. Or get on the message boards at Sparkpeople or another site youíre 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 isnít 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 donít have to take my word for itĖthere 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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Comments

  • 293
    I'm grateful to be able to recommit to a new way of living every morning! I'm grateful for Spark People - a program that perfectly fits ME! I'm so grateful for my loved ones, especially my partner, my little grandson, my daughter & her husband, and my mom. And I'm grateful to be back in college at age 56! - 3/14/2010   5:04:50 PM
  • 292
    This article came at the perfect time for me. Thank you!
    I am so very grateful to have a job, to have a loving family, and to have a 4x4 vehicle today since its supposed to snow 8-12 inches!! - 2/9/2010   9:14:40 AM
  • 291
    I'm grateful that

    I got to the beach today.
    My son said "This has been a good day".
    The sun came out.
    I got some dishes done.
    I got enough sleep.

    What a great idea!
    - 2/8/2010   1:17:10 AM
  • 290
    I'm grateful for having my husband at home for 2 weeks,
    having 2 wonderful and energetic kids,
    a great job,
    a house, and
    a supportive family:) - 2/7/2010   9:59:18 PM
  • 289
    I'm thankful...
    for a roof over my head.
    for a car that runs.
    that I'm still in business.
    that I'm healthy enough to work.
    for a really good friend who takes time to help me declutter my storage unit.
    - 2/7/2010   12:29:59 PM
  • 288
    I am commiting to doing this each morning to begin my day off on a happy note. - 2/7/2010   9:09:45 AM
  • 287
    i am grateful that i have a job to support myself and not be dependent upon others - 2/7/2010   8:43:35 AM
  • 286
    This is a great article.
    It really makes you stop and think. - 2/7/2010   6:56:12 AM
  • 285
    Love the exercise! Have been practicing gratitude in my daily journals. I agree. It works! - 2/6/2010   9:26:42 PM
  • 284
    I'm always grateful for having been born an AMERICAN. I remind my children to always be grateful that they are AMERICANS. I point out to them, when we see news stories in other countries of homeless people due to wars or disasters, that if we were in that group, we'd tell the film crew we were Americans and we'd be picked up and taken to the Embassy and come back home. That I am grateful for and never forget who MY people are. - 12/20/2009   1:38:19 AM
  • 283
    I'm grateful for my mom's willingness to overlook my quirky habits and my friend Lona who is always fun to talk to.
    - 11/13/2009   3:41:03 AM
  • 282
    All I can say is Wow.. I had a really rough weekend with my kids that made me question my ability as a mother. Today I see this and another inspiratinal story that show me I can make changes and feel good about what I have. Thank you. - 11/2/2009   11:54:59 AM
  • 281
    I am greatful for this beautiful day, my wonderful husband, two sons, two great dogs, family and friends! Have a great day! - 11/2/2009   9:16:50 AM
  • 280
    There are mystery ways wake up ahead of time and found two marvelous blogs that I needed to see.Adjust your sail when needed and be grateful to improve your mood.
    The wonders of spark. - 11/1/2009   3:46:54 AM
  • TERI99
    279
    Sage advice. We should be thankful for everything, even the hard "stuff!" There is something to be learned buried in there somewhere. - 10/31/2009   11:19:48 AM
  • 278
    I am greatful, I have a wonderful loving husband, healthy children, and friends that love me.A cup of coffee, roof over my head and computer to read this!
    Thanks for such a great reminder - 10/31/2009   8:08:56 AM
  • JILLBUDD
    277
    I have the day off, but I have a job.
    I'm spending most of the day with my daughter.
    I'm spending the other part of my day with a man who loves me.
    The man I'm in love with sleeps next to me every night. - 10/31/2009   7:31:12 AM
  • 276
    I'm so grateful for my kids in good health, that I avoided injury this morning during my 11k run, that my partner is taking care of his broken arm, that I don't have to cook lunch and that my washer works! - 8/30/2009   4:46:36 AM
  • PRAIRIELONEWOLF
    275
    Excellent blog...just what I needed right now, thanks - 8/29/2009   1:59:24 PM
  • 274
    Awesome article. Sometimes we get so caught up with our own troubles that we forget to be grateful for the things that are actually going great in our lives. - 8/29/2009   11:25:44 AM
  • 273
    Very timely reminder! wishing you many things to feel gratitude for today! - 8/29/2009   7:20:01 AM
  • HEIDI-50
    272
    I am grateful for:

    My bedroom
    I am going to college
    I have two weeks off before college starts again
    My son calls me
    I love my neighborhood in the morning - all the birds singing
    I am grateful for my family
    I can pay my bills today
    I have two pairs of running shoes, a bike, and yoga tapes that I can use
    I am healthy
    I live in America
    I have all my senses
    my legs
    my arms
    I can pray
    I know God has pretty big shoulders and he can handle all my stuff better than I can

    Yeah, Life is Good.

    - 8/9/2009   12:23:26 PM
  • 271
    Thank You, Dean! What an excellent way to look at life. And there is always SOMETHING TO BE GRATEFUL FOR!! NO MATTER WHAT'S GOING IN MY LIFE. - 7/30/2009   9:47:25 PM
  • GLASSYJEN
    270
    This is an amazing article.
    Things I am grateful for: 1. My husband
    2. My kids and grandkids
    3. A close knit family
    4. A loving church family
    5. All of my close friends - 7/14/2009   3:43:47 PM
  • GRANDMAZ23
    269
    What a wonderful gift! Thank you for sharing!
    - 7/12/2009   10:07:44 AM
  • 268
    Grateful for strength in adversity, my critters, my home, being able to work, still learning. - 7/10/2009   8:54:09 AM
  • 267
    I dont know what made me read this blog today but I am greatful I did. Thanks for sharing it I am already making my list for today. What a great way to start my day every day. - 7/9/2009   8:43:42 AM
  • 266
    Each and every one of us has had to face trial and tribulation in life. The greatest lesson in life that I learned from my Dad in facing anything was to....
    "Count Your Blessings."
    ....Things could always be worse, and there are always others much worse off than myself. Being grateful for life and the blessings I have are enough. - 7/8/2009   9:38:32 PM
  • 265
    I am grateful that my son who was to be out of state for training for a new job got assigned to our state. We get to enjoy his company for MORE time. YEAH! - 7/7/2009   9:09:59 PM
  • CRANKYLADY
    264
    I think this is a great tool I will use it- and thanks! - 7/7/2009   2:30:33 PM
  • 263
    Today I am grateful for:
    1. My Faith.
    2. My beautiful husband.
    3. My 6 children
    4. My church family.
    5. My job.
    6. Our health. - 7/7/2009   1:31:24 PM
  • 262
    I am grateful for SparkPeople! - 7/7/2009   1:23:37 PM
  • DAWNMARIEYOUNG
    261
    Years ago when I was 17 and invincible, I was having tests for my heart, and was nervous about the tests, and what they would find. I was befriended by a beautiful little girl-the most perfect blue-eyed blonde with peaches and cream skin little girl I had ever seen! Long story short, she made me feel better about MY tests, saying that everything was going to be ok.
    The next day, I was getting ready to go home after my tests, and asked about my little friend. The charge nurse told me that she had just gotten back from recovery and was in her room. I was so wrapped up in my own issues that I didn't stop to even ASK this little angel why she was here. I asked the charge nurse what she had done, (this was before all the privacy issues) and she told me that this perfect little girl had her leg amputated from the knee down, because of cancer! I was floored-here she was trying to make me feel better, not even mentioning why she was there!
    I went to her room, we hugged and cried, and she again told me that everything was going to be alright.
    Then and there, I decided that someone always has it worse that I do, and I should count my blessings EVERY DAY!!! I'm allowing myself (as anyone should), to moan and be cranky if I don't feel well, but only to a point. Sure, I feel crappy now, but it will pass. My little angel had to deal with a whole new life change.
    That was 28 1/2 years ago, and I still get choked up when I think of her, and the lesson she taught me.
    Enjoy every day to its fullest, and try to make others smile. Life is WAY too short to be miserable. - 7/4/2009   2:23:29 PM
  • 260
    You are spot on...grateful is the name and giving is the game.

    I am grateful when I wake up from sleeping, I find it a joy to still be breathing!

    - 7/1/2009   3:48:51 PM
  • 259
    I am grateful for my family! I am also grateful for finding SP by accident on 4/16/08! This blog is so true! Thanks:) - 7/1/2009   10:02:12 AM
  • 258
    I am grateful for everyday that my mom is still with me and that I can care for her, she is 95 and her health is failing. - 6/18/2009   1:08:16 AM
  • 257
    Everyday I can wake up and do something is a blessing and I'm grateful that I can do all that I do. Some people are not that fortunate. - 6/16/2009   9:26:11 AM
  • 256
    I am grateful for my sight and hearing. I love to look out over my property and see all the critters and I love listening to all the different bird sounds. I am grateful I have the strength to work in my yard. - 6/15/2009   11:53:47 AM
  • LOVESCAMPING
    255
    This is just what I needed to read today. I've known for years about an "attitude of gratitude," and I appreciate the reminder. I am grateful for this blog and am left smiling after reading both it and the comments of others. - 6/15/2009   7:10:24 AM
  • 254
    Today I am grateful for:
    1. The beautiful blue sky
    2. The awesome house we are lucky enough to be renting for 2 years
    3. My mother-in-law, for babysitting my toddler so that I could go out for the morning and have some wonderful one-on-one time with my daughter
    4. My friends Rob & Nic for all their hospitality this afternoon
    5. The gorgeous cuddle my toddler gave me this evening - 6/14/2009   8:38:05 PM
  • 253
    This is such a good story. Like our friend in the story, I have had the same similar experience. I too have suffered with depression/anxiety for years. Therapy helped, but one thing that brought me out of feeling really down, was to think about my step-sister. She married a wonderful man, had four wonderful children. Then at 26 my brother-in-law fell on a construction job and was paralyzed for life. Shortly after my sister learned her second born was developmentally challenged and would never progress pass a 4 or 5 year olds ability. Eighteen years later, her eldest son fell from a construction job and was killed instantly. To top it off, she was diagnoised with M.S. When ever I felt sad all I had to do was think of her and quickly realized how very blessed I have been, and how many wonderful things have happened to me. I am so blessed and so forturnate. My sister passed away a month ago, but I will never forget her.

    - 6/14/2009   5:50:52 PM
  • 252
    For those who like tech tools for this kind of task, check out the web site with the strange name "butterbeehappy.com". - 5/26/2009   3:37:14 PM
  • LADYBUG4772
    251
    I am greatful that Jesus Christ is my savior. I am greatful that God have put true friends in my life. I am greatful that God keeps right on blessing me even though I do not deserve it. I am greatful for Jim (my husband). - 5/24/2009   10:20:07 PM
  • IMADAREDEVIL
    250
    I'm grateful that I have found Spark. I'm grateful that I have a very supportive husband, who still loves me after being together for so many wonderful years. We may have things wrong, and life has not always been easy, but we have each other, and for that, I will always be grateful.
    I'm grateful for all the support, love and guidance I get from my new Spark friends. What a great bunch of people I've found on my weightloss journey.
    I am full of love and happiness! - 5/24/2009   1:06:46 PM
  • 249
    Thank you for the reminder to live in gratitude. We are taught as children to count our blessings and your message today came into my life at the perfect time. - 5/24/2009   12:02:06 PM
  • 248
    SPOT ON!
    kat - 5/24/2009   8:22:08 AM
  • 247
    Today, I am grateful for:

    1) My parents who love me unconditionally (even though I may have disappointed them from time to time)
    2) My son who is healthy and loving
    3) My health (thank you God for blessing me)
    4) Having a steady job that allows me to provide the necessities
    5) For Sparkpeople for providing a site that allows me not to feel as though I'm all alone in not only my weight loss struggle, but in life's struggles.....

    - 5/24/2009   6:45:37 AM
  • 246
    let us all count our blessings!!

    k - 5/24/2009   6:26:19 AM
  • HIFROMOHIO
    245
    I am thankful that my boyfriend's parents have let me live at their house for about 9 months now

    I am thankful to be in a relationship that I am not worried is on the verge of breaking up, and to be with someone I feel so comfortable with who accepts me for who I am and pushes me to be the best I can be.

    I am thankful that this morning was sunny so i could do a 5.5 mile jog/walk.

    I am thankful that my cat is healthy. I dont have any kids so my cat is my baby.

    I am thankful my dad and his gf are willing to help my boyfriend and I with our move, even though it's over 700 miles away. - 5/23/2009   3:53:33 PM
  • TSHARP16
    244
    I am grateful for my 3 healthy sons....sometimes they are disrespectful....but thank god they are healthy.

    My husband and I haven't been connecting very effectively lately......but we are still together so that is something to be thankful for.

    In today's economic situation....I am thankful that I still have my job. - 5/23/2009   9:56:43 AM

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