Dealing with a difficult friend or family member? See them in a new light.
Flare-ups or conflicts with loved ones can cause a great deal of stress and emotional pain. Is there a healthy way to navigate through the maze of discord? I thought I’d look to positive psychology for answers. Positive psychology emphasizes wellbeing and quality of life rather than focusing on what’s wrong and trying to fix it.
Martin Seligman, one of the early pioneers of positive psychology, developed and scientifically tested several practices designed to promote happiness. One such practice is referred to as “Three Good Things.”
I like this practice, which involves identifying three good things about your day and writing them down, for its simplicity and proven benefits. Seligman tested its effectiveness by first having individuals complete the “Three Good Things” exercise each evening for a week. The result was a clear boost in happiness. But this happiness lasted more than a day. Study participants were still happier and less depressed at three-month and six-month follow-ups.
Does It Work With Difficult Siblings?
I recently adapted “Three Good Things” to help me cope with some tension and discord brewing in my relationship with my siblings. Planning for a two-day family get-together started several months ago. I was a part of the planning process and agreed to the location and dates. Several days before the scheduled event, I notified my siblings that I would not be there. Making this decision wasn’t easy for me, but due to COVID and other health-related concerns, I felt it was the right thing to do.
Follow-up emails and phone calls weren’t very friendly. I was criticized for being weak and indecisive and for letting others down. I responded by being defensive and suggesting that they were the ones who should be more understanding.
Then, after a heated argument with my sister, I decided to try something different. I’d find three good things about her. Honestly, at the time I felt it would be easier to find a dozen things I didn’t like than three things I did. I knew, however, that focusing on the negative would be unproductive and would do nothing to boost my happiness.
I also recalled someone designing an entire deck of cards to let a loved one know how much she appreciated the many good things about them. She found 52 good things to say! With this in mind, I challenged myself to find three good things about my sister. After some thought, I had my list. My sister is adventurous, hardworking, and resilient. Just writing the list made me feel much better about my sister and our relationship.
Three Good Things in Nature & Human Nature
I’m not the only one who has tried adapting “Three Good Things” as a path to greater happiness. Miles Richardson and David Sheffield, researchers from the University of Derby in the UK, developed the “Three Good Things in Nature” practice. They believed that noticing our natural environment would bring sustained increases in connection with nature and that this, in turn, would promote psychological health. Their research proved this to be true in both the short-term and over a longer period of time.
While positive psychology is often linked to individual happiness, it also relates to societal wellbeing. Positive psychology practices can be used to foster the strengths of others and to promote the welfare of the wider society. In looking for and acknowledging the good in other people, we support their goodness. In looking for and acknowledging the good in nature, we become more connected to nature and more likely to engage in environmentally sustainable behaviors. The practice of “Three Good Things,” then, can be easily and effectively applied to both nature and human nature.
Who benefits? You, others, and the environment. My guess is it can be applied to many other situations, as well, with a host of desired outcomes.
You may have heard about a movement to make kindness the norm. This movement took root after the phrase "practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” became fairly well-known. Today, a vast network of caring people is working to make kindness the norm in our families, schools, and communities. I wonder what it would be like if we started a movement that focuses on finding three good things about other people and in the world around us. I can’t promise world peace or a life of nirvana, but I do believe this practice could lead to more fulfilling relationships in our families and beyond.
Got difficult people in your life? Think of them as teachers.