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"

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