Increase Positive Emotions - DBT Self Help
Emotion Regulation

Increasing positive emotions is crucial to building a life worth living. DBT teaches how to cope with negative emotions and encourages you to collect positive ones. This skill is part of the Emotion Regulation module. Emotion Regulation is the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy module that teaches how emotions work. It provides skills to help manage emotions instead of being managed by them, reduce vulnerability to negative emotions, and build positive emotional experiences. Positive emotions can be put in the place of negative emotions or share the same space. Having a bank of positive emotions can also help you prevent negative emotions from coming or lasting.

Building up more positive emotions does not invalidate the negative emotions you feel. It is a way of expanding your experiences and providing alternatives to difficult times. This skill can be very challenging if you are used to dealing primarily with negative emotions. Positive emotions may feel foreign or distant. As with all DBT skills, the solution is to practice.

You can build positive emotional experiences in two ways:

  1. Short term experiences
  2. Long term experiences

Short Term Experiences

Short-term positive experiences could be something like:

  • Going for a swim
  • Taking a walk in the park
  • Going out for pizza
  • Watching a favorite TV show
  • Calling a friend to chat

You probably already do something like this in your life. Do not change what you’re doing just increase how often you do it. Doing pleasant things gives you positive emotions. You deserve positive emotions even in the midst of all the turmoil. This will get you in the habit of having positive feelings.


Take a look at the Pleasant Activities list. For the next week, do one thing every day from this list of over 100 activities. It’s helpful if you plan what you are going to do early in the day, but you might want to do something spontaneously. Challenge yourself to do at least one thing on the list that you have never tried before, maybe something you have been wanting to do. Enjoy yourself.

Long Term Experiences

In addition to having short term pleasant experiences, you also want to do things and make changes in your life that will make positive events happen more often. Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT, often speaks of creating “a life worth living.” This is part of what makes life worth living.


What are some things that you can do to make your life more worth living in the long term?

If you are going to school, or planning to go to school, you have a plan, and are working toward a goal. For some people, their job may be a goal in itself, or preparation for a goal (another more challenging or interesting or better-paying job). Perhaps you would like to move into your own apartment, or attend a treatment program, or move into the city or live in the country. Maybe you may be learning or want to learn a skill or a craft, or take art lessons or swimming lessons, visit a friend or family member or travel in another country or buy a car. The possibilities are endless.

Think about what you would like to do to make your life more pleasant in the future. Make a list. Now list some small steps you can take toward your goals. Take a first step. How does this feel?


Another important area to work on for a more positive future is your relationships. This is not an easy area for many. But you can do some things that will help.

Repair a Relationship

If you really care about a relationship that has gone bad or just lapsed, work on repairing it. Renew a relationship or to work to repair a relationship. The rewards can be great. Make sure you are not returning to a relationship that harmed you in the past.

Create a New Relationship

You can also reach out for new relationships. This can be hard. Choose a community activity like a club, bowling, singing, church, community gardening, etc. Go every week, and you will see the same people over and over and begin to chat and feel familiar. Invite someone you like for coffee or a walk. Maybe you might try something like that for one of your Pleasant Events for this week.


Work on a Current Relationship

This could include spouses, partners, children, parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, any one who is close to you or with whom you spend a lot of time. If you think that your positive feelings would improve by working on a present relationship, then give it a try. Don’t let all your happiness depend on one person. Try to cultivate a variety of relationships.

Positive Mindfulness

These last two points are really important if you are going to have and keep positive experiences in your life. Mindfulness is not confined to its own module in DBT. It is useful for every other skill as well.

Be Mindful of Positive Experiences

To be mindful of positive experiences means applying mindfulness to the things that give you pleasure. Focus your attention on the positive things that happen or that you do – a talk with a friend, a walk in the woods, an ice cream cone, a good night’s sleep, anything that you enjoy. Focus your attention on it and if your attention wanders, refocus as many times as necessary. This will help to get you into the habit of experiencing pleasure.

Be Unmindful of Worries

Distract yourself from thinking about when the positive experience will end, whether you really deserve this positive experience or what might be expected of you now that you’ve had this experience.

For example, if you find yourself thinking, “Gee, I’m having fun at the circus, but I am so messed up, I don’t deserve this,” distract yourself using other DBT skills. Focus on the experience. Keep those worry thoughts away. Don’t give up on the experience.

Think about what you would like to do to make your life more pleasant in the future. Make a list. Now list some small steps you can take toward your goals. Take a first step. How does this feel?

Explore More DBT Skills

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Try some of these pleasant activities to add to your positives bank. Read More>


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Additional Resources

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