Mentally subtract for happiness – a different approach to gratitude

Mentally subtract for happiness – a different approach to gratitude

by Dr. Happy 

Imagine what you're life would be like without…(something you highly value)? 

This is the question I pose in this week's eNewsleter research update and practical tip. You can check it out here but to make sure you never miss out on one of these powerful mood enhancers SIGN UP HERE to receive The Happiness Institute's free, weekly eNewsletter. 

I'm sure regular readers of this eNewsletter would be well aware of the benefits of practicing gratitude and appreciation. Positive psychology has, for quite some time now, advocated a number of strategies (including the 3 Good Things exercise and keeping a Gratitude Journal, among others) as ways to boost happiness and wellbeing. Well, research also strongly supports a variant of this with which some of you might not be as familiar.

A group of researchers from Harvard and the Universities of Virginia and North Carolina asked participants in their study to, rather than count blessings, engage in a process they called "the mental subtraction of positive events". So, rather than focusing on how wonderful it was to have good things in their lives the research subjects were asked to reflect upon what it would be like if they didn't have these wonderful things in their lives! In short, after engaging in this activity the participants reported more positive affect (another way of saying more happiness!).


Following on from the aforementioned research findings, give some thought to trying one or more of the following activities:

  • Imagine NOT having some of your favorite things in your life

  • Write about how a positive event might never have happened and how surprising it is that it did become part of your life

  • Write about how you might never have met your romantic partner, or best friend, and how different your life would have been

  • Reflect upon NOT having your job, or your house, or your friends or pets or any number of positive aspects currently in your life

As always, we'd love to know how you fare with this exercise so feel free to post your thoughts or comments HERE on The Happiness Institute's Facebook Page. Thanks in advance : )