Winter got you down? Or the Vikings? Try telling yourself each day, over several days, three positive things that happened. And then see if your mood has improved.
The technique has been a staple of the positive-thinking movement over the past two decades, and has been used by everyone from therapists with depressed patients to parents with kids who had rough days.
Now it’s become a core component of a mental fitness group in Brainerd that seeks to promote hope and resiliency among its participants, including people who are suffering or at risk for anxiety and depression.
The brain is hard-wired to dwell on negatives, so it can take work to see positives, said Tom Gonzalez, a Brainerd pastor and co-chairman of the group. “We want people to be more aware of the positives in their lives and not just solely focus on the negatives.”
While listing positive moments might seem too simple to work — and is not a substitute for professional care — it is supported by a growing body of research.
A 2005 study led by psychologist Martin Seligman in Pennsylvania found that listing three positive events was one of three techniques that promoted happiness and decreased depressive symptoms in research subjects.
A Duke University researcher reported last year along with colleagues in Switzerland that the technique improved well-being in workers at a hospital’s high-stress neonatal intensive care unit.
The mental fitness group in Brainerd is part of Crow Wing Energized, a health project started by Essentia Health and Crow Wing County. The Duke researcher, Bryan Sexton, spoke to the group in 2015 about resiliency, then recruited participants to try the three-good-things exercise and report their experiences for future research.
The Brainerd group promotes its approach by distributing “three good things” notepads at the county fair and other community events.
The group also aims to help people understood how childhood trauma can affect adult mental health, and reduce the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to talk to others if they are thinking of hurting themselves.
A recent publication of the Minnesota Hospital Association described the program and included a story from a Brainerd High School sophomore named Alissa. About two years ago, she called police when she found herself locked in a classroom with a best friend who attempted suicide in front of her.
Talking about such problems can help prevent them, she said. “You are not alone. One in five people have a mental illness.”