Pleasant Activities and Activity Scheduling

Our rating
 2 smilies: This treatment is useful. It is supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.


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  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

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 part of behavioural activation which is a component of cognitive behaviour therapy. 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.

Some behavioural activation approaches include additional methods to help you to notice which activities are most helpful and which are not helpful for you.

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 and is supported by many studies. There is also research about whether activity scheduling and behavioural activation on their own are helpful for depression.

A large analysis of data from studies of adults with depression found that behavioural activation is an effective treatment for depression. Other reviews have found that behavioural activation delivered in both a group and individually by a therapist were effective depression treatments compared to a control condition.

Another review of studies which compared behavioural activation to other components of cognitive behaviour therapy found that it was as effective for the treatment of depression.

Several reviews have also considered studies where behavioural activation techniques are taught via a web-based or app-based program. Although there has been less research for these programs there is evidence that behavioural activation delivered via technology is effective for reducing 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 you can do with the help of a therapist who may include other behavioural activitation approaches. You can also schedule pleasant events on your own.


Scheduling time to do pleasant activities seems to be helpful for treating depression, especially when done as part of a beahvioural activation program delivered by a therapist or in a group. There is less evidence that pleasant activities are helpful on their own for depression.

Key references

  • Alber CS, Krämer LV, Rosar SM, Mueller-Weinitschke C. Internet-Based Behavioral Activation for Depression: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2023; 25:e41643-e.
  • Biglan A, Craker D. Effects of pleasant-activities manipulation on depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1982; 50: 436-438.
  • Ciharova M, Furukawa TA, Efthimiou O, Karyotaki E, Miguel C, Noma H, et al. Cognitive restructuring, behavioral activation and cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of adult depression: A network meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2021; 89(6):563-74.
  • Cuijpers P, Karyotaki E, Harrer M, Stikkelbroek Y. Individual behavioral activation in the treatment of depression: A meta analysis. Psychotherapy Research. 2023; ahead-of-print:1-12.
  • Han A, Kim TH. Effects of internet-delivered behavioral activation on individuals with depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2022; 152:104-18.
  • Simmonds-Buckley M, Kellett S, Waller G. Acceptability and Efficacy of Group Behavioral Activation for Depression Among Adults: A Meta-Analysis. Behavior Therapy. 2019; 50(5):864-85.
  • Stein AT, Carl E, Cuijpers P, Karyotaki E, Smits JAJ. Looking beyond depression: a meta-analysis of the effect of behavioral activation on depression, anxiety, and activation. Psychological Medicine. 2021; 51(9):1491-504.
  • 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: 14 August 2023