The “Three Good Things” exercise is a powerful positive psychology technique. From a biological perspective, our brains are hardwired to reflect, notice, and remember the negative as a survival mechanism and a way to avoid that which causes physical and emotional discomfort. This tendency to focus on the negative can feed depression and burnout. Taking time to reflect upon three good things that happened in the day and what led to them brings awareness to the positive heartfelt moments of the day and reminds us of our positive role.
Studies have shown that individuals are better able to recognize more good/positive things and feel increased happiness after only one week of exercise.1–4 It is not that more good/positive things are happening, just that they could be recognized more often. Research has also demonstrated that participants who regularly used this technique for four weeks and longer have increased levels of happiness and decreased symptoms of depression when compared to a control group.1,2,4 Additional studies using this technique with Duke Neonatal ICU Staff showed an increase in happiness and a decrease in burnout. Results with Duke Internal Medicine Residents showed lower burnout, fewer depressive symptoms, greater happiness, improved work-life balance, fewer conflicts with colleagues, and improved sleep quality.
Before you begin, you will need paper and something to write with, such as a pen or pencil.
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1. Gander F, Proyer RT, Ruch W, Wyss T. Strength-Based Positive Interventions: Further Evidence for Their Potential in Enhancing Well-Being and Alleviating Depression. Journal of Happiness Studies. 2013;14(4):1241-1259.
2. Mongrain M, Anselmo-Matthews T. Do positive psychology exercises work? A replication of Seligman et al. (2005). Journal of clinical psychology. 2012;68(4):382-389.
3. Proyer RT, Gander F, Wellenzohn S, Ruch W. Positive psychology interventions in people aged 50–79 years: long-term effects of placebo-controlled online interventions on well-being and depression. Aging & Mental Health. 2014;18(8):997-1005.
4. Seligman ME, Steen TA, Park N, Peterson C. Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. Am Psychol. 2005;60(5):410-421.
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