Did you know that you can increase your long-term happiness by almost 10% if you regularly practicing a simple, fun and free 5 minute exercise?
Here’s the exercise: “Write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week.” This action involves consciously spending a few minutes each day focusing on some of the good things that happen to us.
By doing this we buy into one of the Family Peace Foundations fundamental evidence based principals: We want Australian families to see life like it is – but focus on the good bits.
It is all about starting to notice what goes right, as well as what goes amiss in our lives. Even on a shocking day, there are inevitably some good things that happen, however tiny.
But to make this work… the exercise has 4 essential components:
REGULARITY – Yes, you need to do it every night – before you go to bed, think back over your day and remember three good things that happened – things that went well, that you enjoyed or were grateful for. These can be small (e.g. a delicious sandwich or a child smiling on the bus) or of bigger importance for you. You’ll probably find it varies. Try doing this for a week to start with.
RECORD THEM – note them down – this is important. You may want to get a small notebook just for this purpose – or you can record them online using an app or website.
QUESTION – Think about why – for each thing you’re grateful for, write down why it happened and why you feel good about it. This may feel a bit tricky at first but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
REFLECT – Look back – after a week, have a look back on what you’ve written. How does it feel when you look at all these good things? Do you notice any themes?
PERSEVERE – keep it up – keep going for another couple of weeks at least. Many people find it becomes a bedtime habit. After a while you may find that you don’t need to do it every night. Three times a week or even once a week might be enough.
That’s it. We spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive electronics, homes, flash cars and vacations hoping for a 10% boost. This is a free alternative, and it works. But how do we know it works? Could this be just more pseudo pop psychology snake oil?
Well, no actually. In a study of the technique’s effectiveness, Professor Martin Seligman, the acknowledged father of the positive psychology movement and arguably one of the world’s most famous psychologists, participants were asked to follow those exact instructions for just one week.
The results? After just one week they were 2% happier than before, but in follow-up tests, their happiness kept on increasing, from 5% at one month, to 9% at six months. All this, even though they were only instructed to journal for one week. I turned out that the research subjects enjoyed the exercise so much, that they just kept on doing it on their own.
When I first heard of the technique – I decided to give it a go for one week but like the subjects in the experiment – I just kept doing it. I used a web-based program that sent me a reminder on my phone each night via email and it became a habit, rather like brushing my teeth and I became a convert – mainly because I found it so effective.
So why does this work so well? There is this thing in psychology called ‘hedonic adaptation’ – which is just psychobabble for the idea, that as humans, we just get used to the good things in our life and end up taking them for granted.
Remember the last time you upgraded your TV or forked out for a new car, virtually anything that you bought because you thought it would make you happy. The odds are that it probably did made you happy, for a while. The first few times you sat in your car to drive it you actually thought about it’s features, be that the emergency assist braking, automatic window wipers, park assist, ventilated seats or dolby surround sound system.
Whatever it was that you focused on, there was some form of appreciation and it is actually that appreciation that creates happiness. The amazing thing is that this tends to occur automatically. But then, after a while, if you are really honest with yourself – you have to admit that one day – it just stops. There is no more recognition – no more conscious thoughts. Jumping in that car and driving it becomes part of your day to day reality, undeserving of your mental time and it is with that change, that you lose this initial rush of happiness, in all likelihood setting you out on yet another fruitless quest for your next toy.
This neat thing about this exercise, that Professor Seligman calls the ‘Three Blessings Technique”, is that done often enough, it battles that feeling of loss, the rampant affluenza that besets so many and counteracts adaption.
By taking the time to consciously express gratitude, we remember that we already have in our lives good things.
From ancient scriptures to the latest science, this type of systematic gratitude is known to be good for us and those around us. Yet it isn’t always our automatic response and far too many of us often take the good things in our lives for granted. So, at the Family Peace Foundation we urge all Australian families to consciously learn to get into the habit of being grateful.