Three Good Things

Practice of the Week
Three Good Things

A number of studies have tested possible methods for increasing happiness in a short period of time. Two methods have been repeatedly shown to be effective: The "Gratitude Visit," and "Three Good Things." We'll save the "Gratitude Visit" for another time. This week, the practice is "Three Good Things."

"Three Good Things" was created by Positive Psychology pioneer Dr. Marty Seligman. Doing this technique for only one week has been shown to increase your happiness by up to 25 percent for the next six months. Increasing someone's happiness by 25 percent for more than a few weeks is not easy to do. For example: if tomorrow you went into your office and your boss told you he was doubling your salary, you happiness would go way up -- temporarily. Six months later, your happiness level would be elevated by only 2 percent. You'd have a lot more money, but only 2 percent more overall happiness.

The Three Good Things method, however, very often yields a 25 percent increase in happiness, even six months later. That's over twelve times the effect of having your salary doubled. Not bad for a method that only takes two or three minutes a day.

Why does this method work so well? How good we feel at any moment is largely determined by what we focus on. Focus on the bad things happening in your life, or in the world, and you can probably work yourself into a tizzy of anxiety or depression. On the other hand, if you intensely focus on the good things happening in your life, you'll feel pretty happy. Unfortunately, you'll likely feel contented only for the period of time that you're focused on those good things. Merely focusing on the positive for a few moments each day does little to raise your overall happiness.

To make the effects more enduring, Dr. Seligman tried to find a way to better cement this positive outlook into one's identity. The Three Good Things method does this through three simple steps.

Step 1. Think of something that happened to you during your day that you felt was good, or in some way made you happy. It can be a little thing such as your appreciation of the day's weather, a nice conversation, or the yummy sandwich you had for lunch.

Step 2. Write down in a journal or on a piece of paper what it was that made you feel good.

Step 3 -- the most important step. Reflect on your role in creating that moment of goodness or happiness.

That's it. Doing these three steps takes only a couple minutes. Then your repeat this exercise two more times so you have a total of three good things you've written down, each time asking yourself, "Why did that good thing happen to me today?"

Once, after explaining this process to an audience, I asked for a volunteer to work with. A woman raised her hand and I asked her to come up with the first good thing that had happened to her that day. She said, "I don't know. I've been feeling kind of down a lot lately."

I said, "Even if you've been feeling down, perhaps some small thing has happened today that you can see as a good thing. What might that be?"

She said, "I've liked this workshop so far. That's good."

(If she were doing this exercise on her own, she would then write this down. Instead of writing, it's always an option to do it orally, sharing with a mate or child an example of something good that happened that day and why it happened. My wife and I often do this right before we go to bed, and it's a great way to feel good about our day and prepare ourselves for a restful night of sleep.)

Next, I asked why this good thing happened -- this going to the workshop and enjoying herself. She thought for a moment and then tentatively replied, "I guess it happened because I signed up for it."

I asked her to point to something specific about her or her character that she could feel good about. "What about you made it so you'd sign up for a personal growth workshop?"

She replied, "I guess I'm desperate."

So I said to her, "That may be true, but there's also a positive reason you signed up. After all, there are a lot of desperate people in the world, but not all of them sign up for one of my workshops. Yet you did. Despite feeling down, you invested your hard-earned dollars in hopes you could learn something that would change your life. In other words, the divine spark in you that knows happiness is possible is still very much alive in you. That means you still have hope, you still have curiosity, and you're still willing to learn. That's why you signed up for this workshop. And not only did you sign up, but you're also finding value in it. Not everybody does. It's your openness to learning that's creating your good experience." A tear slowly dripped down her face. I asked, "What's going on?"

She replied, "I sometimes get down on myself,thinking I'm hopeless. But now I see that there's plenty of reason to have hope. There's some goodness in me."

It was only when I elaborated about the traits she displayed that she was touched. Now imagine that each night before going to bed you got in touch with specific positive traits in you that helped you create magical moments during your day. Can you see how that would help you feel good about yourself and your life? Maybe not all at once, but over time you'd start to feel you have some control and that you're able to create good moments in each and every day. Studies show that the effectiveness of this exercise increases the longer you use it, but even if you use it for one week, its effects can linger for many months.

While it's best to come up with three good things per day to list -- and then ask why each thing happened, you may choose to only list one or two good things per day. The exercise is still effective -- and instead of taking two to three minutes each night, it only takes one or two minutes.

When you really get that certain traits or things about you help create positive moments in your life, your life changes. You start to understand that no matter how difficult a situation you're in, your ability to laugh, or connect with others, or learn something new or whatever is good about you can help create a special moment.

The key is to make sure you take a few moments to really feel good about what you created each day. You might feel grateful that you have a certain ability, or perhaps proud of yourself for doing something well. Whatever you feel, allow yourself to savor that food feeling for a few moments. Before you know it, you'll feel lighter and happier.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"


Whose Am I?

Practice of the Week
Whose Am I?

adapted from Scott Tayler
'The ancient question, “Who am I?” inevitable leads to a deeper one: “Whose am I?” – because there is not identity outside of relationship. You cannot be a person by yourself. To ask “Whose am I” is to extend the question far beyond the little self-absorbed self, and wonder: Who needs you? Who loves you? To whom are you accountable? To whom do you answer? Whose life is altered by your choices? With whose life, whose lives is your own all bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?' (Douglas Steer, Quaker teacher)
Whose are you? What promises, and to whom, are central to who you are? In particular:
  • What is your promise to those who have gone before you?
  • What is your promise to those who come after you?
  • What is your promise to those central to your life right now?
  • What is your promise to yourself?
Delve into these question by selecting four photographs -- one to represent each of the above four questions. Select one picture of a person that represents your promises to those that have gone before you, one picture of a person that represents your promises to those who will come after you, one picture of a person that represents your promises to someone central to your life right now, and one picture of yourself. You'll need a hardcopy of these pictures, so print them out if necessary.

Put these four pictures in a place you will see every day for a month. Perhaps tape them to your bathroom mirror or stick them in your wallet. Maybe frame them and place them on your desk or stick them with magnets on your fridge.

Make a conscious effort to reflect on them every day and do at least one thing to further or honor your promise to one of these people.

If you live with a significant other, consider doing this practice as a couple or a family: select photos representing you couple/family's shared promises.

For Journaling

Each day select one of the four promises and reflect on one or more of these questions:
In what ways that you have honored the promise?
In what ways have you broken the promise?
What meaning does the promise have to your life?
How has the content of the promise evolved over time?
What meaning and significance does the promise have in your life?

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"


Ask Yourself What's Good

Practice of the Week
Ask Yourself What's Good

If your life is anything like mine, several times a week you receive what appears to be "bad news." It need not be anything big. Perhaps you realize that your car needs a new muffler or your back begins to ache again. Since things often don't go the way we want, it's important to learn to handle life's little upsets without losing one's equanimity. Amidst our busy-ness and stress, pausing to "look on the bright side" can be difficult. Luckily, there is a simple and effective method: Ask Yourself What's Good.

A few years back, I was giving a lecture on how good things can come from seemingly disturbing problems. During the break, a student approached me and said he had something for me in his car. As he took his time rummaging through his car, I got increasingly annoyed because I was taking too much time away from class. Every time I was about to head back to class, he'd say, "Wait! I think I found it." Finally, I insisted I must get back to class. As I entered the class, about a hundred people yelled, "Surprise!" It was the day after my birthday, and most of my friends had come to throw me a party.

What was humbling about this experience was the fact that I had just been talking about seeing the positive in adversity, but had totally missed the opportunity when it happened. I realized that in order to feel peace during difficult times, the slogan "look on the bright side" is not, by itself, enough. Instead, a simple and precise technique was needed for times when the crap is hitting the fan. I tried various methods. Most failed miserably, but one technique worked.

Whenever a problem arises, I simply ask myself, What could potentially be good about this?

Then, even if I don't believe it, I come up with at least two things that could potentially be valuable about the problem I'm facing. If nothing else, when difficulties arise in my life, they can always help me learn important inner traits such as compassion, patience, humility, and faith.

The question, "What could potentially be good about this?" is a great aid to gaining equanimity. It takes your mind off the negative aspects of the situation, and it can help you see opportunities that were invisible before. Most growth, whether personal or professional development, comes from facing challenges and turning them into opportunities. If you can sincerely ask yourself "What could potentially be good about this?" when you're upset or stressed, you can quickly find your way back to a feeling of peace.

When asking yourself, "What could potentially be good about this?" you need not come up with answers you think at all likely. Just the simple act of inventing a couple of possibilities will help you feel better. Normally, when something happens that we don't like, we don't see anything except what made us upset. We lose all perspective.

Imagine you have a black dot the size of a nickel on the page in front of you. If your eyeball were right on top of that black dot, all you would see is black. A person in such a position would rightfully say, "I see nothing but a big black void, without any color. That's all there is out here -- total darkness." When you ask about the potential good of any situation, it helps you to gain perspective once again. It points your mind away from the black dot, and towards the bigger page of your life. Even if you aren't convinced that anything good could come from the problem at hand, at least you're no longer glued to the black dot. The experience of inner peace results from the ability to see that any "black dot" is only a small part of the picture of life. From a yard away, a nickel-sized dot is not big deal; from across the room, it's hardly noticeable.

The best way to see how well this method works is to try it out. Fortunately, life will give you many opportunities! Let's say you come home one day and find your neighbors have a new dog -- one who barks for no apparent reason. After hearing the dog bark for two hours straight, you feel like hurting someone. Instead, you ask, "What could potentially be good about this?" At first you exclaim, "Nothing!" Yet, you know that such thinking won't do you any good, so you strain to come up with two possibilities. First, you think, "Well, I'll have to talk with my neighbors about this, and potentially we could become closer as we work out the problem." You're halfway there. Finally, you begrudgingly think, "I guess this is motivating me to communicate my needs, and better stand up for myself -- which I often find hard to do." Now that your thinking is not stuck on the black dot, you can see how this situation can be used for your growth. Congratulations! Besides turning this stiuation into a growth opportunity by asking a simple question, you will probably also feel better.

It can be hard to remember to ask about the good when you're upset. In addition, even when you remember to ask, it might be hard to come up with two answers. You'll probably notice that there's a part of you that actually resists looking on the positive side. Yet there's no joy or energy in the "woe is me" experience. By asking about the potential good, you'll soon feel better and be better at solving life's little upsets. As you learn to use this method as a habitual response to problems, you'll develop confidence that any situation can be turned into an opportunity for your growth. When you can consistently see the silver lining int he upsets of life, you'll be well on your way to creating lifelong happiness.

For Journaling

Look back on your past 24 hours. Select and describe one thing that, at the time, you wished had not happened. Then list two potential good things that might (or maybe already has) come out of that.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"