Design a beautiful day today

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Martin SeligmanRegular readers will already know that I’m a fan of Dr. Martin Seligman’s work. He’s the author of Learned Optimism and a number of other books I’ve found useful, especially for those of us who have been body-slammed by a life-altering medical diagnosis and are trying to somehow salvage some shred of sense-making out of the whole mess. 

Oh, sure. You may already be thinking: it’s so easy for healthy people to feel positive. But what about when you’re a patient living with debilitating symptoms, hospital admissions, fistfuls of meds, scary side effects, diagnostic tests, medical appointments, hospital re-admissions, and distressing procedures? Don’t you need to be healthy to be truly happy?

Dr. Peter Ubel, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, says NO. When he and a team of researchers at his university studied kidney dialysis patients, for example, they found surprising evidence (published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology) that, despite their chronic and considerable health problems, these patients were just as likely to be happy as those without major medical conditions.  The patients studied had all been in dialysis for months, visiting a hemodialysis centre three or more times a week for hours at a time to have their blood cleaned because their kidneys had failed. Not what you’d imagine as a happy place to spend your days.

Meanwhile, because mastering anything (including happiness) takes work, Dr. Seligman launched Authentic Happiness to help people develop “the attitudes, skills and habits most likely to predispose them to a happier life.”

This site includes exercises drawn from undergraduate Positive Psychology classes he taught at the University of Pennsylvania. His students’ experiences gave him the data he needed to assert that happiness, like a muscle, can be increased by exercise.

His Beautiful Day exercise, for example, starts like this:

Pick a date within the next week or two to set aside at least a half day (or full day, if you can) in which you design your perfect day. Carry it out using “savoring” techniques, such as sharing it with another person, keeping souvenirs, or losing “killjoy thinking”. Dr. Seligman explains:

“Practicing the technique of savoring intensifies and lengthens positive emotion. That makes for wonderful days and afterglows.”

So just in case you need a good dose of pro-active uplifting, why not teach yourself this Beautiful Day exercise on how to design a beautiful day for yourself?  

A Beautiful Day: Applying Principles of Positive Psychology

Author: Martin E. P. Seligman, University of Pennsylvania

Concept: Positive psychology seeks to understand the qualities of the good life, encompassing positive subjective experiences and the qualities that define them. This activity will challenge students to explore their own definitions of the good life as they apply the concepts studied throughout the unit.

Materials: None.

Description: After discussing the qualities of positive subjective experience and what constitutes “the good life,” propose the following to the students:

Design a beautiful day (a 24-hour clock day) that is within the realm of possibility for you to live currently. Explain why you choose each element.

Have students bring in their designs for discussion. This discussion is to help the instructor be sure that the students understand what the research says about positive subjective experiences and “the good life.” Once discussion has come to a satisfactory conclusion, present the following assignment to the students:

Now try to live that day and report your feelings while including the following questions:

Part 1: Were you successful in living that day? Why or why not? Were all of the qualities of your beautiful day truly beautiful? Why or why not? What would you now change about your perception of a beautiful day?

Part 2: Is there any action you might take to move toward achieving a “beautiful day” on a more regular basis? How does your conception of a “beautiful day” fit in with your life’s goals?

© 2013 Dr. Martin Seligman

By the way, Dr. Seligman suggests we continue to practice “savoring” in other ways in life, like “letting an exquisite piece of chocolate melt slowly in your mouth, or taking time to close your eyes and listen to a beautiful piece of classical music.”

I’m going to go try that right now. In fact, I have the music set to go already: Albinoni’s achingly beautiful Adagio in G Minor.

Thanks to Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson at Seattle Children’s Hospital for her tip on Beautiful Day activities

Q:  What would your own Beautiful Day look like?

See also:


10 thoughts on “Design a beautiful day today

  1. Pingback: Sick With Optimism
  2. What a fantastic exercise Carolyn! My husband and I both did this exercise and our ‘beautiful days’ turned out to be remarkably different.

    Mine was filled with things I rarely get to do – like breakfast in bed while reading the Sunday paper and enjoying a spa experience with my girlfriends – massage, facial, mani-pedi, the works – but his was filled with things he regularly does anyway like playing golf, shooting hoops with his buddies, walking the dog, going to a hockey game with our sons. So basically we learned that he already builds into his normal day to day life the things he loves doing, while my ‘beautiful day’ would include things I rarely if ever treat myself to. A BIG lesson for me. Thank you — and Dr. Seligman — for this!!!


    1. Wow. That is a profound lesson indeed, RR! The big lesson seems to be for you to follow your hubby’s lead and build into your day to day life things (big and small) that you genuinely love doing instead of waiting for a big special occasion to “treat yourself”.


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  4. I’ve given such a lot of thought to this issue since being diagnosed with a chronic and debilitating illness. I sure had lots of “beautiful days” before I got sick, the quality of my current day to day life however is so diminished that what would have been on my Beautiful Day design wishlist in the past is but a fantasy dream these days.

    Now my idea of a Beautiful Day is just being able to take a shower/wash my hair without being so pooped afterwards that I need full bedrest and no I am not exaggerating… THAT would truly be a Beautiful Day.


    1. Everything is relative, isn’t it? I’m often struck by how a tiny thing – like having clean hair, or watching a little hummingbird at my feeder – will qualify as a Beautiful Day event now.


  5. Like this idea and am already making a list to create my own Beautiful Day. Such a simple yet powerful concept. Thx Carolyn


  6. I must try this. What a great idea and i like the idea that happiness is like a muscle and needs exercise….


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