Seemingly too simple, the “Three Good Things” is a scientifically proven, powerful and effective positive mindset exercise to increase our happiness levels. Speaking of which, experts call happiness by the term positive affect or subjective well-being.
This happiness-boosting exercise comes from positive psychology—the science that explores the positive side of mental health, psychological strengths, and flourishing.
This is a short and uncomplicated guide to the Three Good Things (TGT) happiness exercise. Learn how to get it right with examples and themes. The activity is simple and takes barely around 3 minutes. So, take up this positive challenge for your greater good—we urge you.
What are three good things?
Three Good Things (TGT) or What-Went-Well is a daily journaling exercise to cultivate gratitude, increase optimism, and boost happiness. Method: Before going to bed at night, sit for a while and look back on your day. Think and write 3 things that went well. Reflect on them. Repeat for at least a week.
What Went Well in Positive Psychology?
Martin Seligman’s pioneering work in positive psychology found “What-Went-Well” to be a happiness exercise that results in positive effects on life satisfaction and lowering of depression levels. Referred to as the Father of Positive Psychology, Seligman explains it as finding and writing down three things that went well each day.
How to do the Three Good Things (TGT)?
- Every night, just before you go to bed, sit down for a while and look back on your day.
- Think of 3 things that went well for you during the day, that is, the positive things of the day.
- Write down each of the 3 feel-good events. Then be mindful (learn how to be mindful in seven steps), and reflect and brood upon each.
That’s all there is to it. That above is the shortest guide to the TGT. Want it still simpler? Then here goes the image-quote version:
The Three Good Things is a happiness-boosting journal exercise. Once you adopt it as a daily habit for at least a week, it helps you cultivate an attitude of gratitude and increase your life satisfaction, hope, and optimism levels.
Basically, it is a positivity-focused gratitude exercise you do at the day’s end while living a regular everyday life. Remember, doing it sincerely and regularly is the actual challenge.
Now, done with the briefest guide on Three Good Things, let us talk of a few problematic areas of the practice. And how can you find your way around them?
Are there any rules of practicing TGT?
There are three conditions or rules attached with TGT practice for this happiness intervention to be most effective:
- Writing down is vital as it helps you to focus on the events in a properly structured way.
- Reflecting on what you did is essential, as it adds to your sense of control and perceived well-being.
- Timing is significant. Research says to get appreciative results, either do it every day for one week or try it once a week for six weeks.
Important rules: Writing, Reflecting, Timing.Think of 3 things that went well during the day. Write them down. Reflect on them. See your happiness rise. Click To Tweet
What are some themes of TGT?
If you’re stuck with a journal in your hand, trying to pull out of your memory the good happenings in the day, then here are five themes you could explore. Ask yourself:
- What one way you made the most meaningful use of your time today?
- What one good thing happened at your work/school/college today?
- What one helpful support you had from your relationships today?
- What one good act of generosity or kindness you did today?
- What one thing brought a smile to your heart today?
What are some examples of TGT?
Still stuck? Well, check out these examples to help you write :
- A great feeling of love you felt when someone checked to find out how you were doing.
- It could be a token of appreciation someone gave you at your work. Or a good customer-feedback.
- It might be a simple, pleasant event as a shared time of talk and laughter at dinner-time with your family.
- It could be a fruitful discussion you had with your children, parents, spouse, friends, or online connections.
- A joyful moment when you stopped to see a fabulous flower in bloom or a few cute puppies playing in abandon.
- It could be you looking at some pictures of your old friends and having positive thoughts about your relationships.
Don’t limit yourself to these above. Explore your own possibilities. Be hopeful; stay optimistic. A few positive moments are waiting for you to discover them.
Why is TGT hard to do at first?
It seems hard at first to dig out the 3 good things that happened in the day. Almost everyone faces this issue. Why is it so?
Martin Seligman, fondly referred to as the Father of Modern Positive Psychology, author of the groundbreaking book, Flourish, explains it as, “For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So overcoming our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.”
To solve this problem, keep in mind that the 3 Good Things do not have to be grand. Any three simple good things are enough.
They need not be things like winning a state championship, grabbing a promotion to kill for, or getting engaged to your long-lost-found-again love.
Even finding the marriage-heaven, whatever that means. Or something as earthshaking as escaping a prison sentence, though that counts.
Any three good things that happened in your day would count. Three things you were thankful for and glad that they happened. Eventually, after a few days of taking too long to think up the 3 good things, you will see the good things in your life light up on their own like tiny sparkles.
Beware: Your “monkey mind” may pull you towards a terrible event or a moment of stress. If you catch yourself going over an event loaded with negative emotions but cannot seem to let it go, tell yourself:
“Okay (your name), that happened. Let’s keep it away for another time. Right now, let’s find a good thing that happened today!”
The idea is to stay vigilant and not let your mind drift off with thoughts about an unsettling event. If that happens, the best strategy is to acknowledge it and then release it. This is an attitude of mindfulness—the proven practice to achieve more satisfaction in life.
What Are The Happiness Benefits of TGT?
- Three Good Things (TGT) is one of the most powerful positive psychology interventions to raise happiness and wellbeing levels. Though, it may not be helpful in improving symptoms of depression.
- TGT increases both hope and optimism (those are two different things). It also helps build a stronger immune system and greater job satisfaction.
- A Japanese study found the 3 Good Things can effectively increase the general trust level in the participant.
- TGT practice also seems to increase a person’s psychological resilience.
Research suggests people can increase their happiness through intentional positive activities, like practicing kindness, being altruistic, or expressing gratitude. A study that combined the results from 51 studies on positive psychology interventions (such as thinking gratefully, optimistically, or mindfully) found people became significantly happier (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009).
Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2004) found, after one week of TGT, the participants were 2% happier.
But the magic started here onwards. The researchers followed up with the study participants and kept checking their happiness levels over the next six months. To their surprise, the participants were getting happier with time.
Their happiness rose to 5% at the end of one month. And to 9% by the end of six months.
The authors of the study wrote: “At the one-month follow-up, participants in this exercise were happier and less depressed than they had been at baseline, and they stayed happier and less depressed at the three-month and six-month follow-ups.”
To sum up, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the first modern positive psychologists and author of the immensely popular science book The How of Happiness, says:
The Three Good Things (TGT) has been found to increase happiness and decrease depression. Those who did it found their happiness rise to 5% in one month, and to 9% in six months. Click To Tweet
As we expected, our simple exercise was effective in producing higher levels of thankfulness and appreciation. More important, those participants who counted their blessings on a regular basis became happier as a result.
Compared with a control group (i.e., people who did not practice any kind of exercise), the gratitude group reported significantly bigger increases in their happiness levels from before to after the intervention.
Interestingly, this effect was observed only for those who expressed gratitude every Sunday night.
Video: How To Practice TGT
Here’s a short video on the 3 Good Things Exercise by none other than the father of modern positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman:
Transcript of the video (slightly edited for reading ease):
“The Three Good Things exercise has you write down for a week, before you go to sleep, three things that went well today, and then to reflect on why they went well.
“It works because it changes your focus from the things that go wrong in life to the things that you might take for granted that go well. And focusing your attention on things that go well breaks up depression and increases happiness.
“I don’t need to recommend it beyond a week, typically for three good things, because when you do this, you’ll find you like it so much. Most people just keep doing it.
“We ask people to write down the causes because we want people to reflect on and immerse themselves in the good events.”
The TGT happiness exercise has been proven to increase your positive emotions. Once you start the practice of Three Good Things, your happiness, hope, and optimism levels rise. It helps you be more grateful, improve your physical health, better your behavior to others, and get a strong positive mindset.
Try it tonight – it may be the best 3 minutes of your day!
[Please check out the 50 Greatest Quotes of Positive Psychology (like the one below).]
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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