April DBT Challenge:

Be Happier by Building Positive Experiences

By Ellen Thomasmas, LMSW, ACSW

When life becomes challenging or, when difficult feelings arise, it can seem nearly impossible to see or experience the good that is going on right now in our lives. Building Positive Experiences is all about finding something pleasurable and fun to balance out the difficult emotions we experience.

When we notice positive experiences that are already present, we begin to accumulate positive feeling and experience more joy. On the other hand, if we are not mindful and we happen to go through the day on autopilot, we can miss the small positive events that may really add up.

What can you do N.O.W. to build these positive experiences?

Just NOTICE, possible OPTIONS, and be unmindful of WORRIES.



Notice when you are walking to the car from your home. The air is fresh, or damp, the sky is clear or may include a uniquely shaped cloud.

Pay attention to how you feel when you interact with people who care about you or when you interact with those you care about.

Notice your body sensations when you laugh at a video that strikes you as humorous.

Being mindful of these seemingly insignificant aspects of your day can create more joy and pleasure in daily life.

It is also important to recognize short-term experiences you create for yourself right now to increase feelings of well-being. Keep in mind that creating positive experiences may feel challenging if you are anxious or depressed. When you use an Opposite Action skill (acting in ways opposite to your destructive emotion) you can begin to chip away at those difficult feelings and develop a more balanced view of the situation.


Reaching out to a friend for conversation
Listening to uplifting music
Drinking hot tea or coffee
Savoring a sweet treat, like ice cream
Taking a long, hot shower or bath
Making a collage
Petting a cat or dog

Planning larger pleasant events (that can be accomplished in many smaller steps) can also be a great way to give your mood a boost! Planning fun projects or friend gatherings are a good opportunity to create something to anticipate.

A goal of DBT is learning to regulate one's emotions and to stay in a positive frame of mind for longer periods of time. It makes sense then that a way to stay in a positive space is by regularly doing positive and pleasing things. Doing small activities every day that help promote or keep one positive and calm, called “self-care,” is key to making progress. This will help you create a life you are excited about living.


One habit to reduce is ruminating about a positive experience or series of experiences. These ruminations can sound like a “counter-point” to the good that is happening. Examples of these worries are:

I wonder when this good experience will end?
Do I deserve this pleasant activity or feedback?
Could this mean that more will be expected of me?

Noticing these thoughts can help you learn to accept them, not judge yourself and re-engage the positive experience you are having. Learning to let go of these worries is an important step to building positive experiences.

Tell us how you completed your challenge for the chance to win a prize!


Ellen Thomasma has extensive experience working with clients suffering from anxiety and depression. This work has included a range of ages from children to teens, adults and the elderly. Her interactions have been significantly enhanced by both professional experiences and life experiences within these various contexts. She is motivated and intrigued by the unique qualities of each person. Looking at and assessing a person’s style, motivations, thought processes and approach to building relationships resonates with her wiring and passion. Her appreciation for using evidenced based modalities continues to grow as she sees effectiveness in addressing concerns while managing problematic symptoms

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