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Attending to the Good to Overcome Hopelessness/Why Gratitude Matters

It’s difficult to call for “Gratitude” practices when we have such critical things happening in the world right now. But it is also important that we not give in to hopelessness and overwhelm when things are so bad. The negativity bias, our unconscious tendency to notice negative things over positive ones, will make it seem like there is nothing but disaster going on. It is true, really bad things are happening and they are important.

We Need to Consciously “Attend to the Good”
However, in order to keep some sense of normalcy, or if we’re really discouraged, we need to tap into what is going well  Doing so keeps our spirits up, gives us hope and the will to persist, and reminds of what makes life worth living.  Even in our day-to-day lives we tend to focus more on what is stressing us out and overlook what is going well.

3 Things That Went Well Today
One of the simplest exercises to “attend to the good” is to think about three things that went well today. So right now, in the midst of whatever you’re doing, stop for just a moment and reflect on your day so far. What events have positively impacted you today, big or small?  Write at least three things (add to the list if more come to mind for you). It can include something that happened this week if it is still reverberating for you. 

Rebecca Wilkinson Artwork
Rebecca-Cup of coffee, great people, lots of light

It’s The Little Things
What usually surprises people is that most things on their list are pretty mundane—just part of our everyday lives.  In other words, cliché or not, it’s the little things in life that really make the most difference.  This matters because we usually believe it’s more significant events that will make us happy (new home, new job, raise, promotion, romance, vacation, “success”, etc.). And they usually do but their luster usually fades fairly quickly.  In fact, what actually seems to affect our quality of life most is little things that are woven into our daily lives (our pets, nature, little accomplishments, small gesture of kindness either received or given, a good laugh, acknowledgment from a colleague, a tasty meal or a satisfying cup of tea or coffee, beating traffic easily, a good night’s sleep, finding a parking space, etc.). 

What Made You Able to Appreciate It?
Although your answers might seem self-evident to you, and many of them will be things that many of us could appreciate, that isn’t always the case. Asking what about you or the situation made you appreciate those things will give insight into your unique strengths and values.  Our friend Paige suggests a variation of that question—ask how were you able to appreciate it.  The idea is that you are looking for what about you that gets those things on your radar and made you see it as “good”.

Example of What Your List Might Tell You
If you answered “taking a walk with my dog” or “being with my kids/my significant other”, then you likely place high value on time with loved ones. If you answered “a good cup of coffee/tea” then you likely enjoy simple things in life and quiet reflective pauses. If you answered that you finished a major project you probably value accomplishment, and if you were “just happy to be alive” you probably naturally have gratitude as a strength.

Gioia–Beautiful People in My Life

Noticing Strengths and Values in Others
This process might also alert you to other people’s values and strengths.  If nothing else, that you share the same ones, e.g., Gioia and her husband Forest enjoying strolling through their neighborhood with their dog Barley (as opposed to Rebecca and her husband—she wants to take a walk but he’d rather ride his bike). Also you might begin to notice other people’s strengths. For example, Rebecca felt a sense of accomplishment that she had used her tenacity to get through a complicated claim process with her health insurance company but also grateful to Cassie, the customer service supervisor, for her patience, accountability and oversight. Cassie not only patiently spent an hour walking Rebecca (who was very frustrated and upset) through each claim, but she also noticed and acknowledged some errors on the part of the insurance company and committed to resolving them.

Values and Strengths are the Good
Tuning to the strengths and values that underlie our perception of what’s good does several things. It loosens the grip of stress.  When we start to feel overwhelmed, it provides some relief, a lessening of pressure.  It also makes us appreciate the impact these simple things have on our lives. And it not only helps us recognize values we share with others but also to see their strengths and the positive impact they have on us.  That makes us feel more empowered, connected, and better able to cope.

How This Is Different Than Making a Gratitude List?
Gratitude lists are helpful, but they can sometimes lose their freshness.  The Three Good Things exercise is more specific to this moment. In many ways it’s a mindfulness exercise—it’s helping you to get out of your thoughts and into noticing what is happening in and around you. It’s also tapping into your values and strengths, which gives insight into why those things would matter to you and not necessarily someone else.

Putting This Into Practice
Write down three things that went well today or very recently. Then write how or what about you or the situation made you able to appreciate it. Then notice the strengths and values that underlie your appreciation and what any people involved are also bringing to the table.  Try it out at least a few times this week, doing so has been proven to lift people’s spirits and make them happier.

Art Activity
Of course, we always recommend an artistic twist to any suggestions we give.
In this case, it would be to you draw/create symbols for the things that came mind or an actual scene of one of them. Or just make art about how you feel in response to the exercise. Either way, we suspect it will enhance “the good” that you get from the experience.