I’ve been in DBT group therapy for 6 weeks now and I’ve learned a lot of skills, but lately I’m most actively working on accumulating positive emotions.
But first, what are positive emotions?
Of course there’s happiness and joy, but you should also consider emotions like gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, love, altruism, satisfaction, and relief.
Accumulating these positive emotions is part of the “Emotion Regulation” module in DBT, and the practice can be broken down into two parts: short term and long term accumulation.
Short Term Accumulation
Short term accumulation is all about creating positive emotions in your life right away. This concept is separated into 3 steps:
1. Build Positive Experiences Now
- Increase positive experiences that lead to positive emotions, i.e. do things that make you happy. It helps to create a list of positive experiences or pleasant events that bring you joy, pride, etc.
- Do one thing each day from that pleasant events list (there will be an example list later in this post.)
- Practice opposite action and avoid avoiding. Every emotion has an action urge (i.e. fear is an emotion and the action urge is to avoid the fear stimulus.) Use social events as an example: say you’re afraid of attending an event, so the action urge would be not to go. The opposite action is to attend the event and “avoid avoiding.”
2. Be Mindful of Positive Experiences
- Focus your attention on positive moments when they’re happening; don’t multi-task. Pay full attention to the experience and try not to let your mind wander; sit with positive emotions for at least 30 seconds after they happen.
- Refocus your attention when your mind wanders to negative thoughts; bring your attention back to the positive experience at hand.
- Participate fully in every experience; be aware of your senses: notice what you see, hear, smell, feel, etc. Try to be present and “in the moment.”
3. Be Unmindful of Worries
For example, try not to worry about things like:
- When the pleasant experience will be over
- Whether you deserve the positive experience or not
- Different expectations others may have of you now
In summary, accumulating short term positive emotions boils down to creating positive experiences, being mindful during them, and not taking away from them by worrying about when the experience will end or what might happen next.
To incorporate this practice in my own life, I’ve created a “pleasant events” list where I keep track of fun events and activities I want to do.
This includes things like reading, gardening, going to concerts, museums to visit, local flea and farmers markets, classes to take, movies to see, art galleries to go to…basically any activity that encourages positive emotions.
Then I make a point to do at least one thing from that list every day.
On weekdays, I often choose less involved pleasant events like reading, gardening, or taking a walk with my dog; anything that can be done close to home that still brings me joy, provides a sense of serenity, or sparks my interest.
On weekends, I try to get out of the house and go to fun places like art galleries, flea markets and museums. I often feel anxious about going since I usually do these things alone (it’s part of my work on learning to be alone without being lonely,) but I practice opposite action by going anyway, and so far it’s been well worth it.
I do my best to be mindful during these positive experiences, and pay close attention to the positive emotions that arise.
For example, if I’m in an art gallery, I try to focus my attention solely on the art in front of me and how it makes me feel, and try not to let outside worries get in the way of the positive experience.
Long Term Accumulation
The idea behind accumulating long term positive emotions is to build “a life worth living.” In other words, make changes in your life so that more positive events (and resulting positive emotions) will happen in the future.
Here are a few steps to help incorporate long term accumulation of positive emotions into your life:
- Avoid Avoiding: stop procrastinating; don’t save for tomorrow what can be done today. Think about what needs to be done to have the life you want, and start doing it now.
- Identify important values; ask yourself what’s really important in your life; what do you really care about?
- Choose one value to work on. For example, I value having a clean home.
- Identify a goal related to that value; what specific goal can you work on that will make this value part of your life? To continue my example, my goal is to clean every day.
- Come up with smaller “action items” that can be done to complete that goal. For me, this includes a daily 20 minute tidy-up, doing the dishes every evening, putting laundry in the laundry basket when I get home, etc.
- Start the first action step now: Start the 20 minute tidy-up today; don’t put it off until tomorrow.
As you can see, long term accumulation of positive emotions involves identifying your values, then taking smaller action steps towards implementing them in your life.
I know for myself, when I’m actively working towards my personal goals and values, I feel happier and more at peace with myself. It helps build a sense of accomplishment, and brings me closer to the life I want to live.
When I work on accumulating positive emotions, short term or long term, it feels like I’m an active participant in my own life.
For too long I spent my days sitting on the couch, waiting for life to happen, but I’ve finally come to realize I’m the one who has to make life happen. Participating in pleasant events that lead to positive emotions like joy and accomplishment really helps me feel like I’m actually living life.
Below is an example list of pleasant events and activities; this is in no way all inclusive, (the DBT workbook I have lists 225 different pleasant events,) and I encourage you to do whatever brings positive emotions into your life.
- Read a book
- Go for a walk
- Visit a museum or art gallery
- Spend time with a friend
- Soak in the bath
- Pay down debt
- Go on vacation
- Go on a date
- Go to a movie or watch TV
- Jog or run
- Listen to music
- Read magazines, or newspapers
- Start or continue a hobby
- Eat something you love
- Practice yoga
- Work on your car (or motorcycle)
- Have a quiet evening in
- Ride your bike
- Garden or tend to house plants
- Go swimming
- Spend time in nature
- Play or watch a sport
- Have family get-togethers
- Go camping
- Learn something new
- Knit, needlepoint, or sew
- Take a nap
- Go for a drive
- Do something artistic
- Create a gratitude list
- Entertain or have friends over
- Play a musical instrument
- Make or buy a gift for someone
- Go out to eat
- Get a haircut
- Drink a cup of coffee (decaf for me!)
- Go to a play or concert
- Visit National Parks
- Complete tasks on your to do list
- Go to the beach
- Go fishing
- Play with animals
- Write or journal
- Dance and/or sing
- Go on a picnic
- Clean and/or organize
- Go to a farmers market
- Play cards
- Work on a puzzle
- Talk on the phone
- Listen to the radio
- Get a massage
- Go bowling
- Buy something for yourself
- Go horseback riding
- Go to a flea market
- Start a collection (stamps, coins, bobble heads, whatever floats your boat.)
If you live in the Bay Area and would like suggestions on fun places to go or cool things to see and do, I would be happy to give you recommendations.
I hope you found this helpful so you can start working on accumulating positive emotions in your own life.