Thinking happy thoughts sounds almost too simple, but a study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences shows that just a week of positive thinking could boost your mood for an entire month.
For one week, German volunteers listed nine beautiful things they’d seen that day before going to bed. Three items were from human behavior (like a friend treating another to coffee), three were from nature (a gorgeous sunset), and another three could be from anywhere (a funky font on a sign). Meanwhile, a placebo group reflected on earlier life experiences every night for a week. On day eight, participants reported their happiness levels, then reported back again after a week, and one, three and six months later.
Those who’d spent their time focused on beauty showed more happiness increases than the placebo group right after the study. What’s more, those mood boosts stuck around a week and a month later. The “nine beautiful things” group also reported fewer depressive symptoms right after the practice and one week later.
Even though the effects disappeared after a month doesn’t mean the results aren’t useful, says lead researcher René Proyer of Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg. “It is not a failing if there are no effects for the longest time span,” he says. “We were just interested in seeing how long the effects are detectable.”
So when you feel like you’re in a rut, make a habit of noting beautiful things. “You only have to invest about ten minutes each evening for seven consecutive days, and there may be longer lasting benefits,” says Dr. Proyer. If a week is too much commitment, start by listing your nine beautiful things for just a day or two.
You’ll probably get a sense of whether it’s a practice you want to continue, says Dr. Proyer. “Liking of the intervention and early reactivity is a good predictor of later success,” he says. “Generally, those that feel that appreciation of beauty and excellence is one of their strengths will find the activity most likely easier to conduct than others.”
Maybe it’s the way your partner always saves you the last cup of coffee, or how your favorite sweater feels just as great as it looks. Whatever perks you up, keep an eye out for the little things. They might just come in handy later!