What makes us happy - I don't know - do you?
A 2007 study by (Sheldon and Lyubomirsky) found that the greatest factor over which we can exert control, that influences our happiness levels is our day-by-day, hour-by-hour activity. In particular it cites the need to find activities that offer, pleasure, achievement, closeness with others, and meaning or purpose.
Taking this insight and applying it to life - if you can increase the amount of pleasure, achievement, closeness and meaning (PACM) in your daily activities your mood will improve.
The difficulty comes when you realise that human beings are instinctually lazy (Hsee, 2010) and we really do not know what is good for us. Christopher Hsee even claims some airports are so aware of our instinct for laziness and unhappiness when idle that they purposefully design long walks to baggage to save on long waits. We are happier when busy but choose idleness.
"I know I will feel better if I go to the gym but I just can't be bothered", "I really should go to bed and not watch another episode but its started now" and "I hate steam-mopping the floor, do I have to?".
That last one is a personal favourite. Assigned this chore, I habitually roll my eyes and quibble, yet the stupid thing is I actually enjoy doing it. It takes two minutes and it is surprisingly satisfying. If I were to score it regarding PACM it would be in at 5/7/0/2 with meaning perhaps coming from the beneficial impact of successful mopping and improved marital relations.
Despite this, my immediate preference would be to slump on the sofa and watch Youtube videos, scroll a social media feed or play Xbox. This is bizarre as if I were to consciously score "scrolling social media feed" it would probably be 2/0/1/0.
The reality is so much of our behaviour is dictated by our current emotional state. Yet it is our behaviour that dictates our mood.
Consider life when suffering Depression. When depressed, motivation levels are low, energy levels are low, concentration is hard to come by and we tend to take a pessimistic view of most tasks. When severe, someone who is depressed finds it difficult to do anything at all. Doing nothing at all minimises opportunity for PACM required to boost mood and it increases opportunity for negative rumination to sustain low affect. We need behaviour to lead the dance, we need to do more to feel better, but how do we when we don't feel like doing anything.
CBT works to help a client actively analyse levels of PACM in daily activity and learn what we get from each task. This monitoring and assessing task that provides information gathered by the client themselves, noted in their own handwriting, can then be used to fight back against depressed predictions and encourage increased activity.
Remember it is thoughts and emotions that influence behaviour and by getting thoughts onside we have a chance of behaving in a more helpful way despite the incredibly difficult emotional state. We identify what works and then we seek to make it happen more often using the tools of scheduling, routine and accountability.
If you think you are Depressed it may be helpful to read our information page on Depression and possibly get in touch. Equally remember, we encourage therapy for maintaining mental wellbeing rather than only being seen as a resource when there is a clinical condition. If you would like to know more about how CBT can help with low mood - drop us a message.
Thanks for reading.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.
Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Is it possible to become happier? (And if so, how?). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 1-17.
Hsee CK, Yang AX, & Wang L (2010). Idleness aversion and the need for justifiable busyness. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21 (7), 926-30 PMID: 2054805