The best exercise for increasing your happiness

In this article, I describe an exciting exercise you can use to increase your self-esteem, happiness, hope, and well-being.

Recent research has been focused on how people can increase their “subjective well-being,” which is another way of saying people’s positive emotions such as happiness, hope, optimism, etc. This article describes an exercise called “Best Possible Selves.” It is an exercise that has some of the most robust research supporting its usefulness in increasing people’s subjective well-being.

Here’s what to do:

1) Imagine a period of time in the future. It can be 6 months, 1 year, or 10 years from now.

2) Picture what your “Best Possible Self” would look like at this point in the future. AND BE SPECIFIC. In other words, if you were to wake up in a year and be the best possible version of yourself, what would that look like?

3) Write down all of the REALISTIC goals you will have achieved by this point in the future, and what these goals mean to you. For example, if your best possible self involves getting a new job, describe the job and why this is meaningful for you. You are describing the concrete achievements AND the positive effect they will have on you (e.g. they will make you feel more accomplished).

4) Write down INTERNAL changes you notice about your best possible self. For example, you are more confident, more patient, less anxious.

5) Finally, write down the steps you believe you can take to make this best possible self become a reality. This can include taking more risks in school or at work, making physical changes to your life (like exercise and diet), being more outgoing with friends and colleagues, etc.

6) Try the exercise for different time-periods. There is a reason the exercise is called “Best Possible SELVES:” it inherently acknowledges the fact that our sense of ourselves changes over time. And you are not tied to any specific version of yourself. For example, you might envision yourself being very driven and career-focused over the next year, but also envision yourself as relaxed and family-oriented in 5 years. Both of these selves can be true! It just takes time to work through the steps to make them possible.

Here’s why this exercise is helpful:

1) It helps you focus your attention and efforts on goals for your life. We oftentimes have goals for our lives that are diffuse and not very well-formed. This exercise forces you to get specific with that you want for your life.

2) This exercise helps you focus your attention on where you are going in life. We tend to get lost in the present or the past (especially when it feels like things aren’t going well), and this exercise helps you focus on the future you want for yourself.

3) Imaging your best possible selves can decrease conflicts you have about what you want for your life, and can help you feel more focused on what you are hoping to achieve in the years ahead. If we don’t get specific, we can be consciously and unconsciously pulled in many different directions. This exercise helps you narrow your focus to a select few important things you want in life.

4) This exercise can increase your performance, motivation, and drive.

5) And finally, this exercise increases your happiness, self-esteem, and hope because it helps to clarify the goals you have for yourself and helps you develop a plan for achieving those goals. Research suggests that having clearly formed goals, and an idea of how you will be positively affected by achieving those goals, strongly increases people’s subjective well-being.

Try this exercise today, and keep revisiting it over the next few months and years! As I said, you are not tied to any “best possible self” and can change them over time as your life changes. The important thing is to get specific with what your self will look like, both externally and internally.