It was a little over a year ago and I had just returned from a family vacation. I sat down at the computer to read my email. I had “unplugged” for a few days. I was hoping that no big issues were waiting for me. I started flipping through each one quickly. I was on the hunt for anything bad.
You know that feeling. It’s great to take a vacation, but you’re afraid to return to a welcome party of problems.
After reading through about eighty email, I had not found any bad news. It was interesting to me that I did not feel good about it. I did not even feel relieved. I felt mostly empty – the kind of feeling that leads you to grab a quart of ice cream and sit in front of the TV.
It was then that I woke up. I said, “What am I thinking?! I just missed an opportunity!” I was so focused on searching for the bad, I was blind to the good. Much of the email that I had received was actually full of positive news!
So that night I started doing something differently. And I have been recommending it to others ever since. I call it the “3 for 1 Gratitude Stop.” Here’s how it works.
When you receive good news – via email, voicemail, or in-person – stop and quickly think of three things that you are grateful for as a result of this news. The 3 for 1 Gratitude Stop makes you pause to take in the good news and recognize the positive impact it has on you. It also makes you more aware of all the people in your life who help make these good things happen.
Why is this important? Consider the research of Psychologist Roy Baumeister. He found that people remember bad things more often than they do good things. If we do nothing to counter this, we are more likely to recall the bad in our life.
If you’re not sure Baumeister is right, think about this. How many good drivers did you see this week? How many times did you receive good service this week? How many times did people send helpful email to you this week? If you’re like most people and you remember anything at all, it’s probably not great.
The 3 for 1 Gratitude Stop helps us combat our tendency to explain away or even dismiss the good things that happen in our lives. Positive Psychology co-founder Martin Seligman wrote in his book Authentic Happiness, “Finding permanent and universal causes of good events…is the art of hope.” This is key. Most of us do not search hard enough for what has contributed to our successes.
When we explore the good events in our lives, we recognize how much help we have received from others. Psychology researcher Phillip Watkins found in his experiments that when you induce a person’s gratitude, you can increase his positive emotion and ultimately his happiness.In another series of studies, researchers Barbara Frederickson and Marcel Losada found that when business teams communicate with each other in a ratio of three positive, and constructive comments to every negative, and unproductive comment, they are predictably more successful. Psychologist John Gottman found in his research that newly married couples who communicate in a ratio of five positive comments to every negative comment have happier and longer marriages. Shelly Gable further discovered that couples who respond with enthusiasm and curiosity to each other’s good news, which she calls “active-constructive responding,” report greater satisfaction in their marriages.
My belief is that these findings translate intra-personally; the conversations we have with ourselves enhance or detract from our performance in life. I am in the process of developing a study, titled “Real-Time Gratitude,” that I designed last year with the support of Martin Seligman and resilience researcher Karen Reivich. My goal is to show that we can direct our attention to thoughts and feelings of gratitude in a real-time manner to help us better live and experience the “good life.”
The 3 for 1 Gratitude Stop gives you a chance to recognize and amplify the good things in your life, feel positive about them, and experience gratitude for the people who are helping to make them possible. You get to savor the good in your life. Reflecting on the research of Loyola Psychologist Fred Bryant, Chris Peterson wrote in A Primer in Positive Psychology, “…those who habitually savor are indeed happier and more satisfied in general with life, more optimistic, and less depressed than those who do not savor.”
The next time you find yourself skipping over or discounting good news you’ll know what to do. Take ten seconds to lock in the positive. Match each piece of good news with three related things for which you are grateful, or people for whom you are grateful.
Think of the impact it will have on your mood and attitude at the office, in the community, and at home. You’ll be creating your own “happy hour” every time you serve yourself a 3 for 1 Gratitude Stop. Appreciate the good in your life. Be a regular at the Gratitude Bar.
Thanks for all your posts and emails over the past month! I enjoy hearing from you. And remember to read the posts of my colleagues on Positive Psychology Daily News! Jen’s up next!
David J. Pollay
Fredrickson B. L. & Losada M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60, 678-686.
Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Happy Hour for a Cause courtesy of André Natta