Three Good Things

September 09, 2020

I’m hearing a lot about anxiety and fatigue these days. It’s understandable considering the unusual times we are living through. There is the constant concern over an invisible virus that may be lurking in crowded public spaces. We have friends who have lost loved ones and some who have struggled head on with COVID-19. There have been hurricanes and wildfires. We see nightly images of violence and social unrest. Millions have lost their jobs. Nearly 190,000 have lost their lives. In many ways, 2020 has been a brutal year. On top of all that, we have a contentious election rapidly approaching. Our republican friends are anxious and afraid that Joe Biden might win. Our democrat friends are anxious and afraid he might not. It feels like there is too much information to sort through and too much misinformation to sift out. What’s a person to do in light of all this?

I find myself doing what I always do when confronted with difficult challenges: pause, take a deep breath, remain calm, rely on the analytical tools of math and science to evaluate the situation, try to put things into a larger historical context, then follow the data wherever it leads and forge ahead with the strength of conviction that the process will bear you out.  Easy to say, challenging to do in practice. One could be forgiven for feeling a little fatigued at this point.

In reflecting on these issues over the long weekend, I kept coming back to a series of ideas I first learned about nearly a decade ago, broadly defined as Positive Psychology. I found my dusty copy of Martin Seligman’s book Flourish and started flipping pages.

Flourish details the scientific study of how to live a more meaningful life with a greater sense of well-being. Seligman is a professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and is often referred to as the Father of Positive Psychology. One popular exercise described in the book is called “Three Good Things.” At the end of each day, write down three good things that went well for you during the day and comment on why they happened, what they mean to you, or how you may experience similar good things in the future. It doesn’t have to be profound. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Just reflect and quickly document three good things that happened. Do this every day for a week, or every week for six weeks. Studies show you’ll have a greater sense of happiness and well-being at the end of the exercise and that sense of well-being grows over time.

If it sounds too simple to be true, I challenge you to try it. I know I’ll be reflecting on three good things every day until November 3, at least. After a long reflective weekend, I feel better already.

Mike Masters