Pleasant Activities and Activity Scheduling

Our rating
1 smiley: This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.

What is it?

Pleasant activities are any kinds of actives that you find enjoyable, such a reading a book, watching a movie, or meeting a friend for coffee. Activity scheduling is a type of therapy where you regularly set aside time to do these activities.

Scheduling activities is a component of cognitive behaviour therapy, and pleasant activities may form part of positive psychology interventions.

For more evidence on some specific types of activities, see the pages below:

How does it work?

There is a theory that a lack of pleasant activities might be a cause of depression. It is thought that if depressed people do pleasant activities more often, it will help their depression. Some types of activities, like reading a book, might promote relaxation. Other types of activities, like meeting up with a friend, can increase social contact.

Anyone can engage in pleasant activities as a once-off event. Activity scheduling takes a more structured approach and involves identifying the types of actives you enjoy and setting aside time each week to do them. You can also note down how you feel before and after doing the activity. Activity scheduling could be done on your own, or with the help of a therapist.

Is it effective?

Engaging in pleasant activities is an important component of cognitive behaviour therapy for depression. This type of therapy is known to be effective. However, there is less research on whether pleasant activities on their own are helpful for depression.

One meta-analysis found that activity scheduling was effective at reducing depression symptoms, and that it was about as effective as other psychological therapies. However, the some of the studies included in the analysis were not of high quality.

One study looked at the effectiveness of activity scheduling for the management of depression in older adults. Activity scheduling was associated with a reduction in depression symptoms.

There is not much research looking at whether activity scheduling without the help of a therapist is effective at treating depression.

Are there any disadvantages?

There are no known disadvantages.

Where do you get it?

This is a treatment that anyone could do on their own or with help of a therapist.

Recommendation

Scheduling time to do pleasant activities seems to be helpful at treating depression, especially when done as part of cognitive behaviour therapy. There is less evidence that pleasant activities are helpful on their own for depression.

Key references

  • Biglan A, Craker D. Effects of pleasant-activities manipulation on depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1982; 50: 436-438.
  • Cuijpers P, Van Straten A, & Warmerdam L. Behavioral activation treatments of depression: A meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review. 2007; 27(3), 318-326.
  • Riebe G, Fan MY, Unützer J, & Vannoy S. Activity scheduling as a core component of effective care management for late‐life depression. International journal of geriatric psychiatry. 2012; 27(12), 1298-1304.
  • Zeiss AM, Lewinsohn PM, Munoz RF. Nonspecific improvement effects in depression using interpersonal skills training, pleasant activity schedules, or cognitive training. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1979; 47: 427-439.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 May 2019