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Published on June 30, 2022

Three Good Things for Happiness

By Ruth Few, LCSW, Clinical Social Worker, Bryan Behavioral Health Services

What if just thinking about three good things each day could make you significantly happier? Well, according to Bryan Sexton, Ph.D., a director at Duke University Medical Center’s department of psychiatry and behavioral science, it can do just that!

Sexton’s team developed a new definition of burnout: an impaired ability to experience positive emotions, like hope, gratitude or interest, or just being amazed at the things around you. This is rooted in our biological tendency to focus on the negative at the expense of noticing the positive.

Power of Positive Emotions

Sexton and his team defined 10 key positive emotions that make people happy: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love. Feeling these emotions, they found, is where purpose and meaning come from. Paying attention to, and practicing these emotions on a daily basis drives an increase in happiness, reduction in depression and allows a recharge of our batteries.

The secret to increasing these positive emotions is pausing and reflecting – done by identifying “Three Good Things” daily. Instead of focusing on the negative, try asking yourself every night for two weeks: “What are three good things that happened today, and what was my role in them?”

Reflect and Connect

Reflect on what went well, then connect your three things to the 10 key positive emotions the experiences created. This can be done on paper, or Duke has a phone app (look for Three Good Things in your app store) to facilitate the process as well as a brief video overview.

The Duke data show the results are equal to, or more effective than using an SSRI (selective serotonin uptake inhibitor) after 2 weeks, and continue to last over time.

Learn more about Bryan Behavioral Health Services and our online mental health and substance use screenings.

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