Sifting for Gold

“I already do that,” my wife says.

I just shook my head in disbelief, feeling somewhat guilty for being jealous of her good fortune on one hand, and grateful for it on another. After all, who wouldn’t want their loved ones to be content with their lot in life? I certainly do!

“Do what?” you might ask.

Before I tell you that, let me just say that if you tend to be biased in seeing the world and yourself through a negative lens, versus a positive one, you are not alone! It is well known in psychology that humans have a natural “negativity bias,” some more than others. We blame, judge, criticize, and even berate ourselves and others unfairly at times.

Positive Psychology is this wonderful branch of therapists who focus not so much on “fixing” what is wrong in people’s lives, but rather enhancing what is right. In other words, they pour their energy on promoting well-being as opposed to just easing suffering. Pleasant states of mind are a welcome respite from unpleasant ones, making the inevitable latter ones more tolerable.

Here is a simple technique to increase your sense of well-being over time. If you don’t do it, it won’t work. If you merely “think” about doing it, it might not work as well.

Find a journal you can write in just for this purpose. Each night before you go to sleep, write down three things that went well that day and why.

These three things can be big (“I won an award at work”) or small (“My friend greeted me with a warm hug”). Make sure you jot down why it happened (“… because my friend cares about me and values my friendship.”) In fact, feel free to list as many reason as you can as to why it happened, really expounding on it. The entire exercise need only take 5-10 minutes before bed.

Over time, what I have found is that I scan my day looking for what is going well, wondering if this experience, or that, will make my list. If I feel like it, I’ll allow myself to make four or five entries instead of just three. I look forward to this time of reflection each night to review “what went well.” Spending more time dwelling on positive versus negative experiences is a sure-fire way to shift the negativity bias to a more positive one.

“I already do that” is what my naturally-happy wife said to me when I told her that this exercise promotes dwelling on positive experiences that happened throughout the day. For those of us who have to work a little harder than some others to promote our sense of wellbeing, this delightful and simple tool holds great promise. It certainly can’t hurt.

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