“Three Good Things” Happiness Exercise: Shortest Guide

3 Good Things

This happiness-boosting exercise might seem too simple, but “Three Good Things” practice has been found to be extremely powerful in increasing your happiness levels. Speaking of which, the experts call happiness by the term positive affect.

This comes from the field of positive psychology – the science that explores the positive side of mental health, away from a focus on mental illness.

And remember, though the activity seems simple, and takes just around 3 good minutes of your day, doing it diligently is actually not.

Take up this positive experience challenge for your greater good – we urge you.

The Shortest Guide To Three Good Things (TGT)

Basically, it is a positive thinking exercise of gratitude practice you inculcate as a daily habit.

Here’s the short and simple 3 Good Things or TGT exercise:

  1. Every night, just before you go to bed, sit down for a while and look back at your day.
  2. Then think of 3 things that went well for you during the day, that is, the positive things of the day.
  3. Write down each positive event. Then reflect and brood upon all three of them.

That’s all there is to it. That’s the shortest guide to the TGT.

Important rules: Writing. Reflecting.

Three Good Things Happiness Exercise
Three Good Things Happiness Exercise

Here’s the simple three-line version of the exercise: Every night, just before you go to bed, sit down for a while and look back at your day. Think of that went well during the day. Write them down.

There are 3 conditions for this happiness exercise:

  1. Writing down is vital as it helps you to focus on the events in a structured way.
  2. Reflecting on what you did is essential as it adds to your sense of perceived control and well-being.
  3. Timing is significant. So, as research says, either do it everyday for one week, or try it once a week for six weeks.
Three Good Things (TGT) happiness exercise: Think of 3 things that went well during the day. Write them down. See your happiness rise. Click To Tweet

Problems, Themes, Examples of TGT

Now that we’re done with the briefest guide on Three Good Things, let’s talk about a few problematic areas of the practice, and how can you find your way around them.

Problems of TGT

It seems hard at first to dig out the 3 good things that happened in the day. Almost everyone faces this issue. But keep this in mind: The 3 Good Things do not have to be grand.

Just any 3 simple good things would be 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.

Or even finding the marriage heaven, whatever that means. Or something as earthshaking as escaping a prison sentence, though that counts.

After the initial few days of taking too long to think up the 3 good things, eventually you will start seeing the small good things in your life light up like tiny sparkles.

Beware: Your monkey mind may pull you towards a bad event or a moment of stress or negativity. Stay vigilant and don’t let your mind drift away with those negative thoughts. Whenever a negative event draws your attention, acknowledge it and let it go.

Themes of TGT

Here are five themes you could explore in your Three Good Things journal:

  1. What one way you made the most meaningful use of your time today?
  2. What one good thing happened at your work/school/college today?
  3. What one useful support you had from your relationships today?
  4. What one good act of generosity or kindness you did today?
  5. What one thing brought a smile to your heart today?

Examples of TGT

A few helpful examples you may write down could be these:

  • A great feeling of love you felt when someone checked to find out how were you doing. It could be a token of appreciation someone gave you at your work. It could be a simple good event as shared time of talk and laughter at dinner-time with your family.
  • It could be a useful discussion you had with someone – your children, your parents, your spouse, your friends. It could be a joyful moment when you stopped to see a fabulous flower in full bloom, or a few cute puppies playing in abandon.
  • It could be a great feeling you got after spending some “me-time” taking care of yourself. It could be looking at some pictures of your loved ones and having positive thoughts about your bonds.

Don’t limit yourself to these above. Explore your own possibilities. A positive moment in your day is waiting to take note of.

Happiness Benefits of Three Good Things

3 Good Things Happiness Strategy
3 Good Things Happiness Strategy

Research suggests people can increase their happiness through simple intentional positive activities, like practicing kindness or expressing gratitude.

A study that combined results from 51 randomized controlled interventions found people asked to do positive intentional activities, such as thinking gratefully, optimistically, or mindfully, became significantly happier (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009).

Three Good Things (TGT) is one of the most powerful positive psychology interventions to raise your happiness and wellbeing levels, though it has not been found helpful in improving symptoms of depression.

TGT increases both hope and optimism (these are two different things). It helps create stronger immune systems and greater job satisfaction.

A Japanese study found the 3 Good Things exercise may be effective in increasing general trust level in the participant.

Along with the above positive effects, it may also be possible to increase one’s resilience via TGT practice.

As psychologist Martin Seligman, fondly referred to as the Father of Modern Positive Psychology, author of the groundbreaking book, Flourish, says,

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 to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.

The effects of three good things was investigated by Sheldon and Lyubomirsky in 2004, and by Martin Seligman and others in 2005.

They found after just one week, the participants were 2% happier.

But the magic started here onward. The researchers followed up the study participants, and checked their happiness levels over time.

Surprisingly, they were getting happier by the week. Their happiness levels rose to 5% at the end of one month, and to 9% by the end of six months.

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,

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.

The Three Good Things exercise have been found to increase happiness and decrease depression for up to 6 months. Click To Tweet

What Are Positive Emotions?

Positive psychology is the study of human strength, resilience, and optimal human functioning (Seligman, 2002). It’s commonly known as the Science of Happiness. It’s goal is to make people happier by understanding and building positive emotions.

Positive emotions are markers of one’s overall wellbeing or happiness. A positive emotion is a desirable and pleasurable feeling that lacks negativity.

They help in our future growth and success. Unlike our negative emotions, which appear in us as swift responses to threat, positive emotions occur in safe or under-control situations.

A positive emotion is more than a mirror image of a negative emotion.

According to Broaden-And-Build theory by Fredrickson (2001), positive emotions broaden our momentary thought-action inventories. Over time, these help us build our enduring personal skills and resources.

In fact, people with higher levels of positive emotions were found to have greater ability to understand others’ emotions – a critical skill in building cooperation (Eisenberg and Miller, 1987; Zaki et al., 2008).

Positive emotions have been found to be critical for fostering relationships and keeping of commitments (Gonzaga et al., 2001; Gruber et al., 2011).

10 Positive Emotions of Fredrickson

There are a number of positive emotions that can play a role in happiness. Barbara Fredrickson (2009) identifies the ten most common positive emotions as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.

12 Positive Emotions of Seligman

Seligman (2002) divided positive emotions into three categories: those from the past, the future, and the present.

Seligman said the main positive emotions linked with the past are pride, satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, and serenity. The positive emotions linked to the future include optimism, hope, confidence, faith, and trust. And he put the positive emotions concerned with the present into two classes: momentary pleasures and enduring gratifications.

Video: How To Practice Three Good Things

Here’s  a short video on the 3 Good Things Exercise by Dr Martin Seligman:

Final Words

The Three Good Things or What-Went-Well Exercise is a gratitude journal exercise you adopt as a daily habit to increase your happiness.

Once you start the practice of Three Good Things, your happiness, hope, and optimism levels rise. It could become your best 3 minutes of the day.

Now check out the some science-backed ways to be happier in a single day:

how to be happy single

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – 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 medical topics.

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