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Happiness Tip: Write Down the Good Things

I am not a journaler; after sitting in front of my computer all day, it doesn’t usually occur to me to end the day by whipping out pen and paper to document life’s events.

But I’ve long preached the benefits of ending the day by noting “3 good things” that happened. And I’ve practiced this research-tested happiness-boosting technique by asking my kids about “3 good things” that occurred during their day at bedtime for nearly a decade. It has come to be my favorite part of the day — when it happens. Which increasingly, it doesn’t. My kids are are now tweeners and teenagers. They share rooms, and they no longer always want to end the day by cuddling with me.

Clearly our family’s “3 good things” practice is ripe for reinvention. And I was recently reminded by the Greater Good Science Center’s wonderful (free!) Science of Happiness online class that the power of this exercise often comes from writing down three good things that happened to you during the day. Here is the suggested practice:

  • At about the same time each day (I recommend the evening, just before bed), take about 10 minutes to write down three things that went well for you.
  • In addition to just jotting down what happened (e.g., “I finally finished a project I’d been procrastinating”) add some details, like what you did or said, or what others did or said.
  • Focus on your feelings. How did you feel when the good thing happened? How did you feel afterwards? How do you feel now?

I’ve decided to start doing this expanded “3 good things” with my kids… via text. Even if they are under the same roof. I like this because sometimes I am not with them at bedtime, but am in a place where I can still text with them. I also like it because the practice includes me more: I prompt them with something good that happened to me during my day, sometimes sending them a picture. (Again, even if they are just in the next room.)photo

Text doesn’t really lend itself to detail, so for each good thing I typically send two texts, one for what happened, and one for how it made me feel. I use the voice recognition on my phone and speak the texts, which saves me time.

My kids and I exchange just one good thing now, typically, since we are trying to go into detail. I also have been jotting down one private good thing for myself, and talking to my husband about a third.

Even though this isn’t the exact exercise that was tested by researchers, I think it is better to modify an exercise to make it something that you find inherently enjoyable than to try to stick to something that doesn’t feel like as good a fit.

Take Action: How can you integrate detailed reflection about three good things that happened during your day? Block off time on your calendar, or set a reminder on your phone, and try to do this practice for 10 days in a row.

Join the Discussion: Are you planning to try out the “3 Good Things” exercise? If so, what format do you think will work best for you? If you’ve done something similar before, what worked for you? Share in the comments!