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Seligman's Happiness Exercises

After psychologist Martin Seligman started teaching what he soon came to call "positive psychology," he began to see some remarkable results.  As he puts it, "I do not think I ever heard the word 'life-changing' more often in my 40 years of teaching."

Two out of the three most effective happiness-inducing exercises he tested were shown to be related to the practice of gratitude. In a carefully-controlled scientific study, he found:

"Three exercises proved to be placebos and three worked well, producing lasting reductions in depression and lasting increases in happiness.

The three that worked were 'three blessings' - writing down three things that went well today and why; 'the gratitude visit' - writing a gratitude testimonial and delivering it personally; and 'using your signature strength in a new way' - taking the signature strength test and using your highest strength in a new way."

Of the effect of the first exercise, he writes:

"We looked at the effect on severe depression of doing just the first web exercise, three blessings.

Depressive symptoms were substantially reduced and happiness markedly increased.
In this uncontrolled study, 94% of severely depressed people became less depressed and 92% became happier, with an average symptom relief of a whopping 50% over only 15 days.

This compares very favourably with anti-depressant medication and with psychotherapy."

- Professor Martin Seligman, Director, Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, "Staying Happier for Longer," BBC News, May 9, 2006