“Three Good Things”

Once upon a time I believed achieving happiness was the purpose of my life.  Experience has since taught the pursuit of happiness actually leads to a good deal of unhappiness.  My vantage point of today tells me happiness is actually a consequence of a very different pursuit in life – the pursuit of the evolution of my ability to love myself and others.

In days past my pursuit of happiness has included many different, but unsuccessful approaches including:

1. The pursuit of momentary pleasure drove me for a long while during the time when I believed happiness was the same as pleasure.  It took empty experience over decades to teach me that sex is not happiness nor is sex love.

2. The pursuit of money, the control it gives and the things money can buy was a catalyst for achievement for much of my adult life.  I thought having then what I did not have as a child would fill in some missing parts within.  Once I had an over abundance I found I felt more hallow than even before.

3.  I realize now my pursuit of happiness included a burning need to be valued as a human being by others.  My childhood environment provided almost none of that reinforcement and instead I felt a need to impress others, to be admired and thought well of.  In that thinking my happiness was attached to what others thought as I attempted to get love, attention and admiration in an impossible way.

Today the fact rings true within that true happiness is not the result of DOING, but of a way of BEING. Rather than being a result of the momentary pleasures or money or even other people, it is the result of my intention to evolve daily as a loving human being.

As a further aid in my positive evolution I am cultivating a new habit.  Each morning I focus on what I am grateful for and ask myself “what three good things happened yesterday”.  This practice comes directly from the book “Flourish” by Martin Seligman whose work I admire and has found a great help to me personally.

Anytime I focus on what I am thankful for and get away from what I wish were different, my life experience improves.  And the more I do that, the greater and more lasting the improvement is. “What three good things” is a simple method of redirecting attention towards positive thoughts and away from negative thinking. It works wonders for me.

We human beings evolved spending much more time thinking about negative experiences and possibilities than positive ones. That’s what kept us safe in the wild and from becoming some animal’s lunch.  Starting when we lived in caves the instinct was strong to spend a lot of time thinking about what could go wrong and how to avoid it.  Once upon a time there was an evolutionary advantage to this dominant way of thinking, but for modern humans this negative bias is a source of a lot of anxiety, depression, and general lack of wellbeing.  Luckily, by re-directing my thoughts intentionally towards positive events, I have found I can do a lot to correct this negative bias.

Dr. Deborah Barnett, Ph.D. writes the “3 Good Things” exercise, also known as the “3 Blessings” exercise, is a great Positive Psychology technique that has been well-tested. It has been shown to increase well-being and decrease depression and anxiety. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., conducted a study using this exercise. The results were that 94% of very depressed people became less depressed and 92% became happier in 15 days. Furthermore, the results lasted for at least 6 months.

“The good things” is simple to do.  Each morning soon after I first get up I pick out 3 things that went well the previous day (many prefer to do this in the evening at the end of the day).  In just a few words I write down three events or experiences that went well and why they went well or what felt good about the experiences. I’ve learned what I choose does not have to be spectacular or dramatic.  Something as simple as being grateful for the sweet strawberries at dinner, appreciating a cool, misty morning or a call from a good friend the night before are good examples of simple, but meaningful reasons for me to be grateful.

Growing my awareness of gratitude has been a profound life-changer.  Always I felt I was thankful, but looking back now I realize before I spent 90% or more of my time focused on what needed to be improved, what needed to change, what I needed to be wary of, what had gone wrong or what might go wrong.  While I can’t say the percentage has reversed to be vastly all gratitude, there is balance now.  My life today contains at least as much thankfulness and well-being as it does worry and anxiety.   I am grateful for my gratitude!

If you don’t get everything you want,
think of the things you don’t get that you don’t want
Oscar Wilde

Free download of “3 good things” log page show in image at top.  No strings attached.

Originally Posted here on October 27, 2011