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
Hi David! I’m grateful for your article, and for learning about your “serve 3 for 1 gratitude exercise.” The research behind your article was fantastic, but I’m most inspiredy your modeling of gratitude. It reminds me of what Jon Haidt said about the power of narratives/metaphors/real experience in shaping our moral judgments; while we can hear reason (e.g. research, empirical evidence), we are most moved by people/experiences/stories. Thanks for helping to shed light on such an important strength, I can’t wait to learn more about “real time gratitude” as your study progresses. :)Aloha, Dana
Thanks Dana for the warm feedback! I have enjoyed our discussions about gratitude. And I thank you for thinking of me as someone who models gratitude. You know it is a big part of my life. I can say that this exercise is one of the most powerful ones I practice every day.
Thanks again for the thoughtful post!
Aloha to you!
Thanks 3 times over David for such a powerful and practical message. I have tried it and found it to be just as advertised! Not only has your exercise prevented me from “explaining away” the good things that happen to me; it also helps me to more easily adopt an explanatory style for those good things that is more “Permanent, Pervasive, and Personal.” I look forward to future posts, and of course to the results of your “Real-Time Gratitude” research!
Nice, David! I recently dealt with a representative for a company who expressed gratitude in several ways during our interactions, and was generally just very positive, upbeat, and helpful. It made me feel better about the company and product and left me looking forward to an opportunity to work with them again.
Thanks for sharing your experience using the “3 for 1 Gratitude Stop Exercise.” It’s great to hear that it is having a positive impact for you. It is fascinating to see how easily we move on from good news. And it’s amazing what happens to our positive emotion when we internalize the good we experience as it happens. Thanks again for your post.
Thanks Dave for sharing your customer service interaction. It’s great to hear how this representative expressed his gratitude to you and how it positively impacted your experience with him and his company. You support the case for the bottom line impact gratitude can have on a business.
Thanks again Dave for the post.
WHen I read about the way you looked for “bad” in your emails, I was really drawn in and was right with you. Your prescription for getting good news — the three for one — is really interesting, and I’m going to try it. I also like the entrepreneurial idea of a “Gratitude Bar,” which could conceivably be a place where you can come in if you only express gratitude. What a cool place that would be! I’m going to suggest a “Gratitude Meal” on the “Gratitude Cruise” next week where we only say things that are gratitude-focused, and I’ll pass along your Gratitude Stop ideas. I think you should be on this cruise instead of me, but I’m not complaining about escaping the cold of DC for the warmth of Belize.
As Dana would say in closing, “Aloha!”
Thanks Caroline for your post! I’m glad my article connected with you. Thanks for sharing how it connected with you and what you plan to do as a result. Let me know how the “3 for 1” helps you, and how people take to the gratitude focus over a meal.
Enjoy the cruise!
Master-Reality.ru website has reprinted this article in Russian.
Here it is:
Thanks David. What is the main barrier, in your mind to people forgetting to grab that daily mental happy hour that adds so much well being? Can you elaborate a bit? Great post – thanks!
I love the idea of the happy hour. When Martin in his book, Learned Optimism, described the ABCD system for bad things that happened to you, I felt that it should also work with good news. Use the same ABCD system but change the D from “Dispute” to “Discuss”.We could slide in the “three to one” idea very easily.I think it’s great.
Thank you all, Joe.
Now that is a creative twist that I can really get behind. Discuss? I never would have thought of that!
Good Job, Joe!
Thanks Ellen for your post and question!
Your question is one that I plan on researching and answering for the rest of my life (said with all sincerity). Ellen, here’s what’s currently on my mind. I think there are few instances in life when we are really encouraged to savor the good in our life. Your typical company or organization wants you to move on to the next challenge as quickly as possible, rather than spend time reflecting on good news. Observe the meetings you attend; rarely will you find a leader who has a regular practice of everyone sharing something good about what they’re doing, or for whom they are grateful. And then you see people run to their email between meetings, often wanting to make sure that nothing bad has happened. Dig into Roy Baumeister’s research on “how bad is stronger than good.”
If you even think of the old message, “I have good news, and I have bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” Most everyone chooses to hear the bad news.
I now make it a point to consciously follow my 3 for 1 idea, and it helps every time. And there is a twist that I added that helps a lot too. I follow Daniel Kahneman’s “peak-end” rule: You remember best the “peak” and the “end” of an experience. I choose to save what looks like it will be a good, or interesting email for last. I want to end on a positive. And then I reinforce it with a 3 for 1. It leaves me with a little boost.
Try out the 3 for 1 and let me know how it goes for you!
Right on Joe! Thanks for the post. You’re right; the 3 for 1 exercise acts as a positive and expedited version of the ABCDE exercise. I shared this exercise with Marty and with Karen Reivich last year; both of them supported the idea.
Thanks again Joe for the post!
Thanks for joining the discussion, and for your support of Joe’s use of “discuss” in the ABCDE exercise.
Jeff, you are a thoughtful contributor to the discussions on the Daily News site. Thanks for your support of everyone. Thanks for the visit!
Best to you,