If You Do Nothing Else, Do This: The Three Good Things Exercise

Rebecca–Three Good Things–Structure, Health, Comfort, Yoga

If you do nothing else for your wellbeing today, do the “three good things” exercise:  Write down three things that have gone well in your day, big or small.

Why?  Because it makes you happier.  Even if you write just one thing that you feel good about, it helps overcome the negativity bias which, as we have explored many times in our newsletters, makes us focus on negative over positive information in our environment.

The Negativity Bias
The negativity bias is the tendency we all have to notice what is wrong over what is right.  In other words, as positive psychologist Roy Baumeister said, “Bad is stronger than good.”

The negativity bias is a function of the way we filter what our senses are taking in.  Even if we are very optimistic and positive (like Gioia, one of Creative Wellbeing Workshops’ founders, who we often joke is the embodiment of these qualities in contrast to Rebecca, the other founder, who is dark and pessimistic), we are wired to perceive that negative information is more important than positive information.

We Overlook The Positive
This makes sense—if something is painful, frustrating, or even just mildly unpleasant, it can dominate our attention.   It also makes sense because it tells us that something is not right which then gives us the opportunity to try to fix or improve whatever is causing the discomfort.  Unfortunately, however, devoting our attention to “the problem” leads us to unconsciously overlook what is going well.  In addition, there are times when the problem can’t be fixed and so focusing our attention there keeps us stuck in the problem.

Consciously Focusing on the Positive
Perhaps more importantly, sometimes the “solution” to the problem emerges when we shift our attention to the positive.  It allows for other possibilities to emerge.

The three good things exercise naturally counters the negativity bias.  It also gives you a clue to the seemingly mundane but significant things that impact our wellbeing—a pleasant cup of coffee, an easy commute, time with our loved ones (pets and people), a moment in nature, a humorous exchange with a colleague, a sense of accomplishment when we get something done, etc.

Three Good Things as Ice Breaker
The three good things is also a great ice breaker.  We’ve been running a lot of zoom workshops recently and we are finding, not surprisingly, that people are not  comfortable speaking out and sharing on that platform.

We have found that we need to do more warm-ups and getting people “into the room”.   We are now using “the three good things” exercise to start most of our meetings because it relaxes people, it brings out humor and appreciation for “the small things” and it gives the participants anchors to connect naturally and safely.  They are then more available and willing to engage in whatever “work” the meeting is supposed to focus on. 

Highlighting Values and Strengths
The three good things exercise also highlights your strengths and what is important to you.  This is especially true if you add  after each good thing some reflections on what about you or the situation made you able to appreciate it.  If you do the exercise regularly, you will begin to see certain themes emerge that can help guide where to put more of your time, energy, and attention.

Instructions for Personal Use

  • Write three things that went well today, big or small
  • Reflect on what about you or the situation made you able to appreciate it
  • Repeat 3-6 times per week
  • You can add what you feel good about in the world, in your community, in your relationships

Instructions for Ice Breaker/Starting Meetings
Use this with colleagues, employees, students, family members, your kids, your mate, etc.  Follow the standard format or modify to the group, e.g.:

  • 3 things that went well with the team
  • 3 things you appreciate about your relationship
  • 3 things that went well at school 
  • Modify to one good thing if 3 seems excessive (like with someone who has suffered a loss)

Click here for a useful handout on Gratitude, Blessings, and the Three Good Things Exercise.

Positively, Rebecca and Gioia

Art Activity
Think about 3 things that went well today.  Makes symbols for those things.  Share on our facebook page.  We love to see your “Good Things”.