Get happy in just 7 days with the 'Three Good Things' exercise
Can you spare 10 minutes a day for one week to make yourself happier?
Then why not try the Three Good Things exercise?
It was devised by Dr Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology movement. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of what enables us to thrive and feel good about our lives by concentrating on our strengths and what's going right with us, rather than what's going wrong.
While it's sometimes dismissed as superficial 'happy' thinking, in fact Positive Psychology builds on work done by pioneers in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy. Like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Positive Psychology promotes resilience by thinking in ways that help rather than harm us. Positive Psychology seeks to compliment traditional psychotherapy methods, rather than replace them.
Dr Seligman's 2005 study using the Three Good Things exercise found that simply writing down three things every evening that went well that day and reflecting on why they went well for just one week led to increased feelings of happiness and decreased feelings of depression in mildly depressed people that lasted for six months.
Some participants enjoyed the exercise so much they kept it up longer than a week, even though Seligman hadn't asked them to. Those who continued the exercise were even happier at the six-month point than those who had stopped after a week. Seligman speculated that the skill of thinking up good things was fun and improves with practice, which made people want to keep it up and thus reap more benefits. It's not known whether happiness increases even further if one keeps noting good things longer than six months as there was no follow-up after that time.
Psychologists Myriam Mongrain and Tracy Anselmo-Matthews replicated the study in 2012 and found a similar happiness-boosting effect.
How to do the Three Good Things exercise:
1. Every evening for seven days before bed, write down three things that went well or gave you pleasure that day. These can be small things, for example enjoying your breakfast, or big ones, such as a pay rise. You might want to use a notebook to keep your reflections in one place.
2. Now write down WHY you found these three things pleasurable and, if you can, reflect further on the positive aspects of the event. This is important because you're focusing your attention in a positive way on your own reasons behind events that you might otherwise take for granted. This, Seligman found, is what interrupts the patterns of negative thinking. For example, perhaps you enjoyed breakfast because it was just you, the radio and the newspaper for a change, or because your new cereal is particularly delicious. Your pay rise might reflect a job well done, or make specific welcome differences to your life.
For an objective measure of your mood, rate your happiness on a scale of 1-10 (where 1 = not happy at all and 10 = happiest you can imagine) in your notebook on day 1 before you start the exercise, then again at the end of the week (day 7). If you continue after a week, rate your happiness monthly.
You have nothing to lose by devoting 10 minutes a day to this short exercise. Give it a go and see if you can increase your feelings of happiness and well-being in just one week. If it's working and you enjoy it, then continue for as long as you like.