Mind fitness training for employee focus, mental clarity, and peak performance.

Three Good Things

Written by Dr. Kim Aikens on September 17th, 2012

Welcome to our next monthly topic: Mindfulness and Personal Growth! This week, we’ll explore how purposefully cultivating an attitude of gratitude can positively impact your health and happiness while improving your quality of life.

It’s evident from the research that happiness and gratitude can make us healthier. Researchers have found significant evidence that people who are happy tend to be healthier and live longer. In the famous “Nun Study,” the happiest quartile of nuns studied lived an average of 6.9 years longer than the unhappiest quartile. Another long-term study following Harvard students over 35 years found that those who were optimistic had a significant decrease in illness at midlife, compared to pessimistic individuals, after controlling for health status.

What's more, happiness and gratitude also make us more creative and better problem solvers. In one experimental study of diagnostic decision making by doctors, those in whom positive emotion was induced actually considered the correct diagnostic more quickly. This study strongly suggests that physicians in a positive mood can actually make better diagnostic decisions, a definite benefit to patients. Next time you go in to the office, be sure to try a little laugh therapy along with your family doctor!

But what if you tend to be the kind of person who sees the glass as half empty rather than half full? Can you exercise your “gratitude muscle” and improve your wellbeing? The answer, I am happy to report, is absolute yes. One way to flex those mental muscles and make gratitude a personal habit is with a simple exercise known to researchers as “Three Good Things.” In one study, this easy activity, done over the course of a week, actually led to greater happiness and less depression a full three months after the exercise was completed.

Here’s how to do it:

Three Good Things Exercise

Simply take the time to write down three positive things that happened to you during the course of your day. Do this nightly for at least a week and be sure to remember at least one good thing that occurred while you were at work. Then, for each occurrence, write a sentence to answer the question of why the good thing happened. Along with the list, you can also try keeping a tally of your happiness quotient on a daily basis, rating how happy you felt from 1-10  (10 being the happiest state you can imagine).

Here's an example from my own journal:

1. Heard from my daughter: I've been worried about her as she has been having a difficult time lately.

2. Made progress on a presentation for next month: I've been having writers block and it finally cleared!

3. Walked the dogs: The weather was beautiful and they chased a squirrel, which made me laugh.

Happiness Rating: 7.5

If you have trouble remembering to bring gratitude to your daily experience, you might try putting a daily gratitude reminder into your work calendar. When the reminder comes up, simply stop for a moment or two, shut your eyes, take several deep breaths and bring to mind one thing for which you’re grateful.

We also suggest our Aikens Approach members listen to our new Podcast meditation on gratitude and compassion. As best you can, bring a real sense of curiosity to this experiment, as well as an open mind, as you watch what unfolds. You may be surprised and delighted at the experience!

As you work with gratitude and the “Three Good Things” this week, it’s important to recognize and manage pessimistic thoughts and cognitions when they occur. Stay alert for times you might be judging yourself harshly and try to let that judgment go by refocusing on your breath, physical sensation, sight or sound. If you do this frequently enough throughout the day, both at work and at home, such awareness will become a habit. The more self-awareness you can bring to your thoughts and thought processes, the more easily you can integrate a healthy dose of optimism. And with this increase in positive outlook will come greater personal productivity, improved health and a good chance at a longer, happier life.

Kim Aikens

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