Addiction can take hold in as little as hours or days and hang around for months or years—even a lifetime. Taking steps to confront an addiction is as difficult as it is admirable.
There are lots of methods and treatments out there for kicking a harmful habit, even a slew of helpful apps to keep you on track. But one researcher found that this simple, tech-free method can help keep folks sober.
It’s called the “Three Good Things” practice. Maybe you’ve heard of it—it’s popular in the world of positive psychology. Three Good Things involves writing daily about—you guessed it—three good things that happened to you that day. The theory is that regularly practicing gratitude buoys us against the everyday negativity that can build up and hold us back from being happy.
Gratitude journaling has long been touted as a healthy way to quiet negative self-talk. But University of Minnesota social work researcher Amy Krentzman wanted to see how the Three Good Things practice could benefit people undergoing treatment for addiction.
“Gratitude is a naturally occurring emotion among people in recovery,” Krentzman said to the university. “On the menu of positive psychology interventions, gratitude practices seemed to hold the most potential.”
She worked with 23 adults who were being treated for alcohol use disorder. For two weeks, half of them wrote about their previous day’s sleep, exercise and caffeine intake. The other half of the group did Three Good Things—writing about positive events of the past 24 hours and why they happened.
After the two weeks were up, the Three Good Things group said they experienced a lift in mood and felt calmer after doing the activity, factors that are known to foster and encourage addiction recovery.
“The people in the gratitude group said that the practice pulled them away from habitual negative thinking,” Krentzman said to the university.
Taking the time to reflect on bright spots in the day also encouraged them to continue down a path to recovery.
The Three Good Things activity “had the unanticipated effect of reinforcing their recovery because when they were asked, ‘Why did that good thing happen?’ they would say, ‘Because I’m in recovery now and not drinking,’ ” Krentzman said.
She found that the positive effects of Three Good Things only lingered while the participants were practicing it daily—there wasn’t an afterglow effect. University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action resource recommends repeating Three Good Things every day for the most payoff.
You can try Three Good Things for yourself. According to the University of California, Berkeley, here’s how to most effectively write about each of the day’s three positive events:
1. Give the event a title (e.g., “co-worker complimented my work on a project”)
2. Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
3. Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
4. Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.
5. Use whatever writing style you please, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling. Use as much detail as you’d like.
If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.
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Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.