Activity: Three Good Things

Title: Three Good Things

Activity: Every day, write down three good things that happened before going bed; briefly reflect on each thing – why did it make you happy?

Science: Gratitude has been proven to be an important factor of happiness and well-being. The general idea is simple: when we experience gratitude we are focused on positive facets of life, rather than the negative. Unfortunately, it is extremely easy to focus on negative events and thoughts; in fact, it has been argued that we are evolutionary wired to do exactly that. The good news? Gratitude isn’t fixed, we can actually cultivate it. And that’s the exact idea behind this exercise: by recounting three good things that happened every day we are actively refocusing our brain to think positively, or more specifically, to be grateful for the positive facets of our lives.

Results: Each night in January I wrote my three good things in a journal before going to bed. Some days it was extremely easy to think of three things that made me happy, while other times I found myself digging deep to find that 3rd thing. The variance in relative importance between days was pretty significant, with big things like “spent the day with my two best friends in Cuba,” to relatively smaller things like “found time to enjoy coffee and a good book,” to “got a text from a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while.”

Thoughts: I had a few interesting realizations after completing this exercise:

  1. It was surprisingly easy to stick to: The relative ease and enjoyment of this activity, coupled with the habit forming routine of always doing it right before lights off, made it easy to follow-through on a daily basis.
  2. I have a terrible memory for good feelings: Often, I experienced some truly positive feelings during a day, but by the time I was in bed I had essentially erased them from my memory. Only when forcing myself to think back did I remember that feeling after a good run or that hilarious conversation I had with a friend.
  3. I started noticing trends: For instance, I realized that I have been underestimating the importance of staying in touch with friends and family. Time and time again, friend and family related activities made it into my three good things, even simple things like texting with friends living in other cities.

Next Steps: Nothing unexpected here – I plan to continue the exercise for the foreseeable future. It’s not every day you discover a low cost (a few minutes every night), high reward (increased gratitude and well-being) activity like this.

Research:

Seligman, M. E., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410.

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