🤔 Happy Habit #2: Three Good Things

• 3 min read

Recall three good things that happened today.

Research Overview

A 2002 study with a group of severely depressed people showed that just two weeks of recalling three good things at the end of every day lastingly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms [1].

Several more recent studies have validated the effect of this simple intervention on various other groups, demonstrating the transformative power of the mind to think more positive thoughts habitually [2, 3].

Core concept

Recalling three good things that happened to you each day subverts one of the core features of the mind that makes humans unhappy called 'negativity bias'. This is the tendency for the human mind to focus on danger, ruminate on negative thoughts and overestimate the impact on negative events.

The theory is that the humans who survived were the ones who were able to avoid dangers, and therefore we've inherited a mind that is hypersensitive to danger, toxic emotions and stress.

By taking the time at the end of the day to recall three good things that happened, we carve a new neural pathway in our brain away from the negative thoughts that have been engrained through evolution. The result is an increased awareness of all the goodness in life that we already have. A natural feeling of satisfaction and sufficiency emerges.

The habit of recalling three good things is a great compliment to gratitude journaling but it's different in that it forces us to look back and find evidence for all the goodness in our life. Similar to gratitude, when practiced daily, this has a snowball effect where the mind begins to see what is good more easily.

If you've ever experienced depression or chronic stress, you'll recognize the pattern of thought that seems pegged to negativity. Everything seems cast in a dark light.

Fortunately, this habit doesn't take hardly any effort and it's shown to be very effective. It's just about solving for the behavior to become more and more automatic and reinforcing the positive emotions it brings.

Behavior Tips

As we know from the Fogg Behavior Model, a behavior only happens when there is a prompt. The best source of a prompt for a daily habit is something that you already do every single day without thinking.

  1. Think about a behavior you already do every day. This will be your 'anchor'.(Something like brushing your teeth, making your morning coffee, putting your child to bed, locking the front door, etc.)
  2. Write down on a piece of paper "Every time I [put my child to bed] I will recall three good things from my day".
  3. Read your intention out loud. Close your eyes and visualize doing the behavior.
  4. Ask your brain to remind you the next time the chosen anchor happens.
  5. When the anchor occurs, recall three good things from your day and notice whatever emerges.
  6. Celebrate doing the behavior and the tiny building block you just laid for thinking more positive thoughts.

I highly recommend making this a daily habit as it's so easy to do and the impact is significant. But if this isn't something you want to do—no guilt, just pick something different that you want to experiment with to build happiness in your life.

My story of three good things

I first started experimenting with this behavior as it's a part of the evening routine in the Five Minute Journal. After a while, I started recalling good things from my day without needing the journal.

One night, as I was putting my son to sleep, we naturally recalled all the good things that happened that day. I didn't think about it, it just happened.

Now it's become part of our routine and we both really enjoy it.

When I lay him down to sleep, we remember a few good things that happened in our time together. He often smiles, does a little stretch and we share a nice moment of reflection.

I tell him I love him, give him a kiss and that all feels like a celebration of our life together.

Conclusion

The science of happiness shows that small interventions like practicing gratitude, using less social media and recalling three good things from your day  have a lasting impact on our well-being and sense of self-worth.

If this comes as a surprise, you're not alone. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that we need to earn lots of money, get a great job or achieve a big lifelong goal to be happy, but fortunately the science says these things actually have a much smaller impact on our happiness than we think.

That's why I created Happy Habits: To surface the insights on what the science says actually makes us happy. Hopefully you've enjoyed this week's edition of Happy Habits and can experiment with making this a habit in your life.

It's too easy not to do...

If you have any feedback or ideas for improvement, I'd love to hear from you!

Citations

  1. Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, 2002
  2. Positive Psychology Progress - Seligman, Martin
  3. A qualitative analysis of the Three Good Things intervention in healthcare workers - Rippstein-Leuenberger, Karen
← ⌛️ Happy Habit #3: Savor The Last Moment
😞 Unhappy Habit #1:📱Compare Yourself to Others →

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