Common sense tells us to “be thankful” and “think positively,” but these vague suggestions can be difficult to interpret into regular practice. Peer-reviewed research in the growing field of positive psychology is providing specific, evidence-based insights for application.
In a landmark study, the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Martin Seligman, the thought leader behind positive psychology, found that people who wrote down “Three Good Things” daily for just one week benefited from improved happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for period of six months.
“For one week, participants were asked to write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week. In addition, they were asked to provide a causal explanation for each good thing.”
The 59 study participants who recorded “Three Good Things” demonstrated increased scores on the Steen Happiness Index and decreased symptoms on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) relative to baseline. These benefits were statistically significant in comparison to the 70 patients in the placebo control arm, which means that the difference between the two groups could not be explained away purely by chance.
The resulting happiness difference between treatment and groups was not immediate, but once it emerged at the one month mark, it persisted steadily for the entire six months of the study.
If you’d like to make Three Good Things a regular part of your life, you might consider doing the exercise once a week instead of daily. In a randomized controlled study over a six week period, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, of the University of California, Riverside, compared the effect of frequency. She discovered that once weekly is best.
Students were asked to “think about the things for which they are grateful” either once a week or three times a week. A third arm of control participants participated in the happiness assessments, but did not do any gratitude exercises. Only the once weekly group had measured improvements in happiness. The results of these two studies suggest that over periods longer than one week, there may be an optimal frequency above which gratitude exercises start to lose effect. “Perhaps counting their blessings several time a week led them to tire of the practice, finding it less fresh and meaningful over time,” say the study authors.
What are your Three Good Things this week?