Train your brain to see the good things in life

Train your brain to see the good things in life

"Three good things" is an exercise in gratitude that, according to research, can have an effect on mental health. Practicing this simple exercise for a while can make us feel better.

What lights up your life?

Have you heard of "Three good things"? Basically, it is gratitude training, which is meant to be used as a daily routine. The idea is that you sit down for a while and look back on your day every night just before you go to bed. You should think of three things which felt good, which you appreciated and which made you grateful. You think for a while and write down the three things for yourself.

Training your brain

Most of us have a laid back attitude when it comes to describing ourselves. This is purely evolutionary, because the people - our ancestors - who survived the hard Stone Age life were not the ones who spent much time resting on their laurels after every success. Instead, it was those who prepared for catastrophe or danger who had the greatest chance of surviving. And those qualities were passed on to us.

Simply put, to overcome the natural tendency of our brains to see more disasters than things that make us happy, we need to practice. We need to train our brain so it can see and pay attention to what we appreciate and feel grateful for, in order to feel better in everyday life.

Research shows higher levels of gratitude

Using "Three good things" exercise has been shown to increase happiness and reduce depression for up to six months, according to an investigation by Sheldon and Lyubomirsky in 2004 and by Martin Seligman and others in 2005.

The researchers found that after just one week, participants were 2 percent happier. But it did not stop there: when the researchers followed up the participants' studies and checked their happiness over time, the results increased. Participants' happiness rose by 5 percent after one month and after six months the result was 9 percent. The result was even higher among participants who used the exercise regularly over a longer period of time.

Compared with a control group who did not do the exercises, the gratitude group reported significantly greater increases in happiness.

In summary, it seems that a simple exercise is performed over a period of time can lead to higher levels of gratitude and appreciation in a person.

Explore small good things

The three good things you write down do not have to be major: three little things are enough. Initially, it may take a while to figure out what you are grateful for. But eventually, you will find it easier to both see and pay attention to the little good things that light up life.

Here are three approaches to help you make the exercise easier:

  1. Write down what you are thinking about – it helps you focus on the events in a structured way.

  2. Reflect on how it felt – this gives a sense of control and well-being.

  3. Create a habit - Timing is important. Either do the exercise every day for a week, or try once a week for six weeks.

Test yourself!

It is entirely up to you which three things you write down. It could be that you felt warm when someone you care about asked how you are feeling. Maybe you got a sign of appreciation for your work. It could be the laughter you shared at dinner with family or friends, or that you had a good conversation with someone. It might be a joyous moment when you saw a beautiful flower on the way home, or watched some cute puppies in a video. It could be a nice feeling that you got after spending some free time taking care of yourself.

  • What thing your heart smile today?

  • Did you see anything that made you feel good?

  • Did a good event occur at your work or school today?

  • Did you have a good conversation today?

  • Did you do anything generous or kind today?

References and learn more:

  1. Happy project - Shortest guide to the “three good things” 

  2. Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way: An Experimental Longitudinal Intervention to Boost Well-Being

  3. The how of happiness (Lyckans verktyg : en vetenskaplig guide till lycka) Sonja Lyubomirsky.