February 09, 2015

Early signs of spring and the What Went Well Exercise

It's mid-February on the left coast of Canada. The air is warm and once-in-a-while the sun comes out. As does the first sign of spring, the crocus flower. It's a wonderfully positive experience.

Dr Martin Seligman is one of the founders of positive psychology ~ a movement premised on countering the disease model of psychology, which focuses on relieving suffering rather than amplifying well-being.

Dr Seligman has books and TED talks about all things positive. Being naturally cynical, as many of us are, it's easy for me to dismiss the exercises and routines he recommends. Yet here is one he promises will bring less depression to our lives, more happiness and an addiction to the exercise itself six months in. All that is required is pen, paper and perhaps a silencer for cynicism. It's called the What Went Well Exercise. 

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. It's important to have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance ("My husband picked up my favourite 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 your husband picked up ice cream, you might 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. 

Enjoying a wonderful walk in the sun with the love of my life, and discovering the first signs of spring, are two positives indeed.

I just need one more.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015.

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