There are periods where we may have more negative than positive thoughts, which can cause us to have more negative feelings as well. We get caught in a negative vicious circle, and it can be hard to break out of. Can you use a bit of extra positivity in your life? Do you need support breaking out of this circle? Find some helpful exercises in this blog!

Negativity Bias

As humans we naturally tend to focus on the negative aspects of life. We call this a ‘negativity bias’. This was probably once, in the past, evolutionary advantageous when we would have to watch out for danger in the form of predators and disease in our environment and most days were a challenge for survival. However, it’s something we don’t really need in our daily lives anymore.

But this bias has generally stuck with us and we find it much easier to pay attention to and learn from negative things, rather than take into account the positives. For example, if you have received criticism at work, think about how easy it is to focus on this, instead of all the other good work you have done. Or, if it’s raining outside it’s easy to focus on the weather and what you could have done if it was sunny, rather than focusing on what is still good about the day.

Positive Psychology

This negativity bias has even permeated its way into psychological research, where the majority of research focuses on mental disease or ‘curing’ our problems and complaints. Positive psychology has instead tried to tackle psychology from a new perspective and focuses on prevention, our character strengths, and positive life experiences. So that we can move past merely ‘surviving’ to instead living a happy and fulfilling life.

It has also proposed and tested some exercises that can help us bring more positivity and optimism into our life. Below you will find a few of these exercises and how you can use the NiceDay app to help you complete them. 

  • The Gratitude Journal

The gratitude journal is one that has already briefly been mentioned in this blog. Research has shown that by regularly paying attention to small things in our day to day, that we otherwise might ignore or forget about, can increase our happiness! (Davis et al., 2016; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006.)

Set a time everyday or at least a few times a week, to write down a number of things that you are grateful for. These can be very small things, such as ‘’I had a delicious breakfast this morning’’ to big things such as ‘’I passed my driving test today’’. Try to be specific and focus on the feeling it gives you when you remember it. 

A gratitude journal in the NiceDay app

  1. Open up the “Diary” tracker in the app and tap on the cogwheel in the top right corner. This will allow you to set a reminder to make a diary registration and set up how often this reminder occurs. (Here you can dowload the NiceDay app)
  2. Set the reminder title to ‘Write Gratitude Journal’.
  3. Open up the “Diary” tracker and fill in at least three things that you enjoyed or are grateful for. 
    1. If you are struggling to think of things: Try to imagine what life would be like without something that you normally take for granted. E.g. A hot shower, your favourite food. 
  4. Try to reminisce and reflect on these good things.
  • Savoring 

Society currently rewards ‘busyness’ and productiveness. For a lot of people, this makes it very hard to do ‘nothing’. Plus, through this it becomes easy to forget to savour and truly appreciate the pleasurable moments. Instead we focus on the next thing we have to do. Fred Bryant (2003) defines savouring as ‘’A mindful process of attending to and appreciating the positive experiences in one’s life’’. So, savoring involves putting deliberate effort into slowing down, appreciating a good/enjoyable moment and reflecting on it for a while.

Take a moment to be aware of the positive feelings that arise, be proud of yourself for your accomplishments and allow yourself to be happy! For example, after you achieve something, take at least 5 minutes to sit and reflect on that feeling. Or, savour the small pleasures in life! think of paying attention to the cool breeze on your forehead or enjoying the taste when you eat something sweet.

It is important not to do anything else but savour during these moments. However, It can also be helpful to reminisce later on these moments, to reflect and write about them in the NiceDay Diary. 

  • Strength based-life story

This exercise involves writing down your life-story, but purposefully taking a positive perspective. It is important that you take into account your strengths and talents, and in particular your achievements and the challenges you have overcome. Think about how you differ now in the present from the past. What has changed and what has improved? What are you currently struggling with? How can you use your strengths to overcome this? This exercise can help you develop a more positive self-image, become more aware of your strengths, and how you can use these strengths to reach your current goals.

Write your story in the NiceDay diary so that your professional can read and reflect on it with you, or reflect on it yourself!

  • One door closes, another door opens

Optimists choose to focus on realistic positive aspects, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of reality. Write in detail about a time when you faced rejection, disappointment or failure and what the result of this was. What opportunity was lost? Then ask yourself what opportunities arose as a result of this? What happened that you’re happy about that would not have happened if it wasn’t for this setback?  

For example in NiceDay diary write: 

  1. An important door that closed for me was:
  2. And the door that opened as a result was:

Try to come up with at least two doors that opened for each door that closed. After completing the exercise, reflect on how long it took you to realise that this door opened. Then think of what stopped you from realizing this.


Are you struggling with depression? Or finding it difficult to focus on the positive aspects of life? Practising with these exercises may help you become more positive. Are you looking for more help in dealing with your depression? Here you will find more information about treatment via NiceDay.

Therapist’s Guide to Positive Psychological Interventions, Psychology Today, Positive Psychology
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Martijn Thomas

Hi, I am Martijn, psychologist at NiceDay. In my spare time I like to produce music, exercise and hangout with friends.

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