The power of three good things

Apr 01, 2020
Learning to immerse yourself in that part of the glass that is half-full can act as a buffer to depression and anxiety, and increase your happiness, writes Dr Eddie Murphy.

For too long, the science of psychology focused on what was ‘wrong’ with people. Only in the past 30 years has psychology focused on what keeps people happy when they are well. This is called the science of positive psychology, and I, for one, am very influenced by this area and Prof. Martin Seligman’s work on resilience, optimism and interventions that prevent depression and build strength and wellbeing. One tool that is recognised to enhance wellbeing is ‘three good things’.

Happier and healthier

Those 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, and we too often take the positive things in our lives for granted. The challenge is to learn to get into the habit of being consciously grateful. Science shows that gratitude is an essential element in how good we feel, both psychologically and socially. It increases our positive emotion and decreases our negative emotion. It raises our overall satisfaction with life and helps us have a positive outlook. It has also been shown to reduce health complaints and help us cope with difficulties. It even appears to reduce the importance we place on material goods and, contrary to what we may think, it may also increase our ability to achieve our goals.

Why does it work? We have a natural focus on what goes wrong in our daily lives, often going over and over these things in our head. We are quick to notice even the smallest of problems, yet we rarely spend any time at all dwelling on the good stuff. Things that brought us a quick smile or felt good are all too often forgotten or, perhaps, not even noticed in the first place.

Taking notice

This action is simple but incredibly powerful. It’s about taking time to notice the good things in our lives and get more from these. What’s more, if parents remember to talk about what they are grateful for, this can help their children learn to think about the good things in their lives and hopefully develop a gratitude habit they can benefit from for the rest of their lives.

This action involves consciously spending a few minutes each day focusing on some of the good things that happened to us. By doing this, we start to notice what goes right as well as wrong in our lives. Even on a bad day, some good things happen – however small they might be.

Exercise: Three good things

1. Every night: before you go to bed, think back over your day and remember three good things that happened – something that went well, that you enjoyed, or for which you were grateful. These can be small (a smile, the smell of trees and grass, the sun, a juicy orange, watching a child playing) or of greater importance. You’ll probably find that it varies. Try doing this for a week to start. 

2. Note them down: this is important. You may want to get a small notebook just for this purpose.

3. Think about why: 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 of it.

4. 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?

5. Keep it up: try keeping it up for another couple of weeks at least. Many people find that 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 and engagement in life. It 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 is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and author.

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