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Savoring Summer: How the “Three Good Things” Exercise Can Help You Get the Most Out of Your Summer (

Even though it feels like only last week that I packed up my office, said goodbye to my students, and took the most epic end-of-school afternoon nap, believe it or not, we are already at the halfway point of summer. For those of you who also feel like their summer is flying by, I would like to recommend an activity you can do to help you savor these adventure-filled (or video game-filled, or whatever else you do with your time off!) days: Three Good Things.

Three Good Things is a very simple savoring activity that has been shown to increase feelings of happiness and decrease depressive symptoms. It comes from a branch of psychology called Positive Psychology, which focuses on identifying “the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.”

Here’s how it works: Once a day, take a moment to reflect on three good things that happened to you that day. Write them down. There are many variations on this theme; some people, for example, suggest journaling about each event, highlighting what led to it happening and how it made you feel both during and after. While those details are certainly helpful and may enhance the effects of this practice, I tend to prefer to keep things simple to avoid feeling burdened by having something new I need to do each day. So, in my version of this exercise, and the version I do with some of my students, I just list the three events, which takes me less than two minutes.

I recommend finding a consistent time to do this each day, like right before bed or first thing in the morning, in order to establish a routine through repetition. In graduate school, I kept a journal on my nightstand and every night before turning off the lights, I would quickly jot down my three good things. I now do it first thing in the morning when I get to school as I check my email and look over my schedule for the day.

One thing that is important to note, and may seem self explanatory, is that you should do your best to focus on finding three good things each day. Yes, you may have the occasional day that is filled with amazingness and it is hard to narrow it down to just three good things, but it is important that you focus on three of the top contenders. OK, fine, if you have to, you can add a fourth. But here’s where there is not any wiggle room: You must always find at least three things to write down. Not two. Three. Why am I so strict on this part of the activity? Well, if one of the goals of this activity is to help you better appreciate things in your life, then you need to allow yourself to find the silver lining of even a not-so-great day. Had a rough time with an Algebra test today? Well at least there is no homework for that class tonight! Or a more appropriate example for summer: Rained all day during your weekend beach trip? At least you felt justified in binge watching the newest season of The Handmaid’s Tale instead!

While it may feel obvious to some that this is an activity designed to help us appreciate and savor the good things happening in our lives, there are additional benefits. I have seen these benefits personally, and in my students’ experience after keeping up with this exercise over an extended period of time:

Greater appreciation for the small wins of the day

It is pretty easy to recall the truly positive things that happen in our lives: a victorious soccer championship, a Sweet Sixteen party, your first college acceptance. We often take less time to relive the smaller moments that make us smile, such as when the school cafeteria serves our favorite meal, when we have a pleasant interaction with a friend in the hallway, or when we are working on an in-class group activity and the teacher assigns your group to move to the exact part of the room where you are already seated. This exercise allows us the space to appreciate and savor those moments as well.

Increased desire to engage in positive activities

You know how you are more likely to show up to school with your uniform shirt tucked in if you know that your teacher will be checking as soon as you arrive to homeroom? Well, this is sort of the same thing. If you know that you will be sitting down to list the three best things in your day, and so far your day has been pretty uneventful, then you may find yourself treating yourself to something nice (for example, going to grab a snack with friends after school or taking a more scenic walk home) in order to have something to put down on your list. Or at least that’s how I justify the bag of Haribo gummy bears I buy during particularly stressful periods….. #treatyoself

Deeper awareness of what actually makes you happy

After a week or two of doing this exercise, you will have accumulated a number of examples of things in your life that make you happy. Next comes the phase that my students and I refer to as “the research phase.” This is where you review all of the items on your list and begin to identify trends. What do you notice that these things all have in common? The first time I did this exercise, when I was in college, I learned two things about myself. First, I really enjoy being around people. Every day at least one of the things that made it to my list involved spending time with others -- grabbing lunch with a friend between classes, catching up with an old friend on my walk home from class, or coming home to my off-campus house to have all of my friends hanging out in the kitchen together making dinner. The other, and perhaps a bit more embarrassing… I really like being productive! Somehow, activities like “writing three pages of my thesis” and even “getting two cavities” ended up on my list because I felt accomplished in getting these things over with (seriously though, even I am judging myself for that second one). Once I became aware of what makes me happy, I was then better able to prioritize my time to engage in things I knew would make me happy. Watch a rerun of The Office or go workout with a friend? I know which I might prefer to do after a long day of work. But I also now know which one will make me happier in the long run. By identifying what actually makes us feel good, we can make informed decisions about how to spend our time.

I invite you to give Three Good Things a shot this summer. Take advantage of your freedom by finding time for things that make you happy, because before you know it, we will be back to the grind of school again.

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