Want to feel better? Are you sure?

What if I told you there was a simple practice that is as close to guaranteed as anything to leave you feeling happier and less prone to anxiety or depression for an extended period of time? Would you do it? Let’s see…

This one comes from Martin Seligman, often referred to as the Founding Father of Positive Psychology, and is rooted in decades of his much-acclaimed research. It can be found in Seligman’s latest book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, and has been shown, again and again, to work. He describes it like this:

“Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today), but they can be important (My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy).

Next to each positive event, answer the question Why did this happen? For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes or because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store. Or if you wrote, My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy, you might pick as the cause … She did everything right during her pregnancy.

Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier.”

If you’re ready to give this practice a try, please do and let me know how it goes. If you’re feeling resistance, and I’m sure some of you are, I invite you to examine that. Because there’s something compelling about the fact that, while we generally say we want to be happier, we sometimes resist taking the relatively simple and straightforward actions that we know will generate happiness.

Seligman, and others, believes a negativity bias is involved: “For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.”

I’ve been wrestling with this one both in myself and in supporting my coaching clients. (See my last blog, Counter Intuitive Advice of the Day: Ignore Your Feelings, for one take on it.) If you are willing to share any thoughts on what you do to overcome resistance to doing the things that increase your happiness and well being, I’d love to hear them. Especially if a glass or two of wine is involved. Anyone?

Bonus link: Martin Seligman on YouTube.

About Us

The WYSIWYG Co. is the coaching partnership of Caroline Sugarman and Aaron Sugarman. We are members of the International Coach Federation (ICF), with more than 40 years of combined coaching and consulting experience.

We work with individuals and organizations, through a mix of one-on-one coaching, workshops and group work that builds leadership and communication skills and improves team performance.

We support our work with assessments that generate insight, highlight strengths and areas for development, and help organizations make better hiring decisions.

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