Hacking the Science of Happiness

If you follow positive psychology, you’ve heard the technique, ‘Three Good Things.’ It’s a simple method to redirect your attention to positive thoughts vs. our natural bias towards the negative. Mastering this shift in mindset is proven to improve your sense of wellbeing. It’s also the first exercise introduced in The Science of Happiness, an online course offered by UC Berkeley. By putting my own creative twist on this technique, I’ve experienced magically delicious results — I’m calling it the ‘Happy Bomb.’

Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., Science Director, Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley

In this short video, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, co-instructor of ‘The Science of Happiness,’ explains the basics. She instructs students to remember and list three positive things that happened in that day, and to spend 10 minutes reflecting on what caused them. Rinse and repeat and eventually you’ll correct your negativity bias.

Months before taking the course, I was introduced to this technique by Shawn Plunkett, my personal development coach at Tradecraft. I immediately embraced the concept of what we had been calling, ‘journaling our wins.’ When Shawn mentioned how three wins could erase the effects of a negative, unbeknownst to him, he had released the positivity kraken! With the terrible, no good, very bad week I’d been having, I said…

“…what’s stopping me at three?”

You see — I’m an insatiable brainstormer. I make lists and lists of thoughts to later combine into novel ideas. So, I took the concept of ‘Three Good Things’ and combined it with my go-to method for brainstorming. I decided to brainstorm a list of every single good thing I could remember — how many bad things could I obliterate?

I focused on the events of the last few days and listed everything positive I could think of. These ranged from big things like acing a job interview, to random things like holding a dog I met on the street, to seemingly insignificant things like stumbling upon a hilarious youtube video. I managed to list 26 wins on my first go… not too shabby!

The experience was completely refreshing. I relished in a profound sense of well-being that lasted for a hearty 2 or 3 days. Brainstorming my wins became a permanent fixture in my life!

On the other end of the happiness spectrum, I’ve grown to appreciate and even embrace the bad stuff. These are my biggest growth opportunities! I use free-form writing to manage the negative feelings that emerge from the bad stuff. Formalizing my thoughts into sentences integrates them into learnings and clears my subconscious. This exercise has always left me feeling relieved, but I’d always return to my day feeling… empty.

One day I just happened to do a free-form writing session right before brainstorming my wins…

Boom! Sixty wins later, I experienced my first happy bomb!

I had a newfound exuberance on life — I felt like no setback was impossible to overcome. So what made this sequence of events so magical? There are three distinct ways:

  1. I always go for quantity when I brainstorm — since the past days’ events were already top of mind, they were easy to pull down. More wins = more happy.
  2. I was able to turn most of the bad things into wins by extracting the positive learnings.
  3. My internal filter was shut off and my creative juices were flowing. With an accelerated thought process, I was able to dig deeper to find the hidden wins.

It was a recipe for happiness! This method has never failed to lift my mood. I’ve experimented with practicing this method daily, but find the drastic ‘bomb’ effect to cause more significant results. So I’ve settled in on practicing it every Sunday evening to start the week off with a happy boom! And now, whenever anything really great does happen, I instantly look forward to putting it on my wins list making each great moment even better.

Your recipe for a Happy Bomb:

  1. Get out your journal — paper or computer. Free-form write the past week’s events and how you feel about them. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or paragraphs — find your flow. Once you have a clear subconscious, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
  2. Start a new page or journal entry. List the positive things that you did, that happened to you or that happened to a loved one in the past week. Let your thoughts flow freely but pass over anything negative. Remember, nothing is too small to jot down. I like to start off each new list item by saying, “Win!” just to pump myself up that much more.
  3. As you list or after you’ve finished, take a mental note of how each positive thing makes you feel. Do you see any patterns? If so, try to seek out more of those opportunities in your upcoming week!

Go boom!

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