The Three Good Things is a simple task that boosts your happiness. It only takes three minutes and it can make you happier in your day-to-day life.
It’s been scientifically proven to raise your happiness level. Experts call happiness a positive affect or subjective well-being (SWB).
This powerful happiness-boosting exercise comes from positive psychology—the science that explores the healthy side of mental health, like your psychological strengths and how you can flourish.
This is a short and uncomplicated guide to the Three Good Things (TGT) happiness exercise. Together, we will overcome the various hurdles of practicing it, and learn from examples and scientific evidence.
What are three good things?
Three Good Things (TGT) is a gratitude-journaling practice that helps reduce our negative bias in noticing and recalling events. It reminds us to focus on the positive events in our day, instead of dwelling on the negative ones. Results in a week: more gratitude, optimism, self-compassion, and happiness.
What are good things? The good things are things that happened to you or you made happen that were beneficial to you and others.
How to do the Three Good Things (TGT)?
Here’s how to practice the Three Good Things (TGT), a proven happiness-boosting exercise:
Step 1. Look back upon your day
As you finish your day and prepare to go to bed, sit down on your bed or a chair nearby.
Keep a notepad and pen ready. Close your eyes and look back on your day.
Recall the things you did and things that happened during the day.
Step 2. Think of 3 good things that happened
Ask yourself what went well today.
Think of three things that were good that happened. Pick out three positive highlights of your day.
Remember, you need 3 positive things that happened, not the least negative three things in your day.
Humans are born with a negative focus bias. Your mind may tense up initially, focusing on things that have disturbed you, such as a minor accident, a rude comment, or a person who always hurts you.
Take a few deep breaths and pull your thoughts away from those negative events.
Doing so, you force your mind to focus on the good things. This develops a positivity bias in your mind, and trains you to see events in an optimistic light.
Step 3. Write down the good things
Once you find three events that made you smile and feel happy, write them down.
Even if they were small events, as long as they were positive, write them down.
I suggest you use a paper journal and a pen. Try to avoid writing on your mobile or a digital journal, but you could do that.
Step 4. Reflect on the good things
Finally, spend 15 to 20 seconds reflecting on each event.
Think about how it was different from other events and why you would remember it.
Do the 3 good things in life exercise for a week initially.
Thereafter, do it weekly as long as you want, but do it for at least six weeks.
That’s all there is to it. That is the shortest guide to TGT. Take up this positive challenge for your greater good—we urge you.
Want it still simpler? Here goes the picture-quote version:
Think of 3 things that went well during the day. Write them down. Reflect on them. See your happiness rise.
Now, let’s discuss a few issues with practicing Three Good Things, and how to deal with them.
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 is one way you made the most meaningful use of your time today?
- What one helpful support did you have from your relationships today?
- What one good thing happened at your work/school/college today?
- What one good act of generosity or kindness did you do today?
- What one thing brought a smile to your heart today?
3 Good Things Examples
Stuck still about how to do it? Well, take a look at these examples to help you:
- 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 workplace. Or good feedback from a customer.
- It could be a simple, enjoyable occasion, such as a shared time of conversation and laughter with your family during supper.
- It may be a fruitful discussion on a sensitive topic (like relationship boundaries or personal space) 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 old pictures of your friends and being flooded with positive thoughts and memories about them.
Don’t limit yourself to the above. Explore your possibilities. Many positive moments are waiting for you; seek them out.
Even if you find it difficult to bring up some good things at first, keep a glass-half-full attitude. Let’s find out how you can get them sooner.
Are there any rules for practicing TGT?
The TGT practice needs three conditions to work well:
- 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 good results, do it daily for a week (or once a week for six weeks).
Important rules: Writing, Reflecting, Timing.
The real task is to approach your TGT practice sincerely and consistently.
No one is judging you for it, and you too shouldn’t be judging yourself for the low positivity in your days.
It is a happiness-boosting exercise, so if it feels like an unhappy, tedious task that you have put yourself through every day, then don’t do it.
Follow the research, and do it for a week and then stop.
If you feel like it, come back to it for another week sometime later.
Why is TGT hard to do at first?
You are not used to seeing the good in the world, like most people. So, it is hard to find the three good things when you start.
We evolved with a negativity bias, which is how our brains work. We scan for threats in our environment.
Martin Seligman, fondly called the Father of Modern Positive Psychology, explains it:
“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, remind yourself that your 3 Good Things don’t have to be special or spectacular; any three simple good things are enough.
Any three good things that you are thankful for and are glad they happened, will count.
Eventually, after a few days of taking too long to think up the 3 good things, you will see them light up on their own like tiny sparkles.
Your good things need not be winning a state championship, grabbing a promotion to kill for, or getting engaged to your long-lost-found-again love.
Even finding marriage-heaven, whatever that means. Or something as earthshaking as escaping a prison sentence, though that counts.
Beware, your “monkey mind” will pull you towards a terrible event. If you catch yourself overthinking an event loaded with negative emotions, 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 catch yourself when your mind drifts off to an unsettling event. When it happens, acknowledge it and then release the thought.
This is the proven practice of mindfulness meditation.
Benefits of Three Good Things
The TGT happiness exercise has been shown to increase positive emotions, happiness, hope, and optimism. It helps us be more grateful, improve our physical health, improve our behavior toward others, and get a positive mindset.
Once you adopt journal exercise as a daily habit for at least a week, you cultivate an attitude of gratitude that helps you find things to be thankful for among a multitude of normal events.
TGT makes you be more appreciative of things you might otherwise take for granted.
Since it is done at the end of the day, it does not require a rearrangement of your daily routine.
What Are The Happiness Benefits of TGT?
- Three Good Things (TGT) is one of the most powerful positive psychological interventions to raise happiness and well-being levels. However, 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 combed through 51 studies on positive psychology interventions (like being asked to count their blessings) found that people became noticeably happier when they were given individual positive interventions. (Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009)).
Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2004) found that after one week of TGT, the participants were 2% happier.
But the magic started here on. 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:
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.
Three Good Things (TGT) increases happiness and decreases depression, as research finds. TGT practitioners found their happiness rise to 5% in one month, and to 9% in six months.
‘What Went Well’ in Positive Psychology?
Martin Seligman’s groundbreaking work in behavior psychology led him to later find revolutionary ideas like ” that can boost life satisfaction and lower depression levels.
Widely known as the Father of Positive Psychology, Seligman explains the “What-Went-Well” happiness intervention in the video below:
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 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.”
- Download: Three Good Things PDF
TGT is simply finding and writing down three things that went well each day.
Try the TGT tonight—it may be the best 3 minutes of your day!
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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