For too long the science of psychology had focused on what was wrong with people. What was their personality? What was their disorder?
It is only over the past 20 to 30 years that psychology has focused on when people are well, and what keeps them happy. This is called the science of positive psychology.
I for one am very influenced by this area and Prof Martin Seligman, and his work on resilience, optimism and interventions that prevent depression, and build strengths and well-being.
One of the key action tools in this area that is recognised to enhance wellbeing is called ‘Three Good Things’.
Happier and Healthier
People who are grateful tend to be happier, healthier and more fulfilled. Being grateful can help people cope with stress, and can even have a beneficial effect on heart rate.
This action is easy to do, and its benefits have been scientifically proven. In tests, people who tried it each night for just one week were happier and less depressed one month, three months and six months later.
From old wisdom to the latest science, gratitude is known to be good for us and those around us. Yet it isn't always our automatic response to events, and too often we take for granted positive things in our lives.
The challenge is to consciously learn to get into the habit of being grateful. Science shows that gratitude is important in terms of how good we feel psychologically and socially.
It increases how much positive emotion we feel, and decreases negative emotion. It raises our overall satisfaction with life, and helps us have an overall positive outlook.
It has also been shown to reduce health complaints and help us cope with difficulties. It even seems to reduce the importance we place on material goods.
And, contrary to what we may think, it also appears that it could increase our ability to achieve our goals.
Why does it work? We have a natural focus on what goes wrong in our daily lives, and we often go over and over these things in our heads.
We are quick to notice even the smallest of problems, yet we rarely spend any time at all dwelling on the good things.
Things that brought us a quick smile or felt good are all too often forgotten, or perhaps not even noticed in the first place.
This action is simple but incredibly powerful. It's about taking the time to notice the good things in our lives, and get the most from these.
What's more, if parents remember to talk about the things they're grateful for, this can also help their children learn to think about the good things and hopefully get the benefit of a gratitude habit for the rest of their lives.
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 start to notice what goes right as well as wrong in our lives. Even on a bad day, there are some good things that happen, however small.
Three Good Things Exercise
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 (eg, a smile, the smell of trees and grass, the sun, a juicy orange, watching a child playing) or of bigger importance for you. You'll probably find it varies. Try doing this for a week to start with.
Note them down. This is important. You may want to get a small notebook just for this purpose
Think about why you’re grateful 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.
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?
Keep it up. Try keeping this habit up 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. You may also find that you start to appreciate the good things more as they happen.
Three Good Things orientates us towards a sense of appreciation for and engagement in life. Remember, Three Good Things works, because it changes our focus from the things that go wrong in life and things that we take for granted, to things that go well.
Focusing our attention on things that go well acts as a buffer to depression and anxiety, and increases our happiness as we reflect and immerse ourselves in that part of the glass that is half-full.
Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychological and counselling service in Portarlington, Co Laois. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to www.facebook.com/ dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist