Monday, June 1, 2015

When Things Don't Fail

There's a whole industry publishing photos of things that go badly wrong, some funny, some too painful to be funny. But until I came across this practice, I never thought of making a point of what went well.

I came across it online, quoted from Martin Seligman's book Flourish. It's been quoted verbatim a lot, so that seems to be okay with him. It's called What Went Well.  Here it is:

"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. You may use a journal or your computer to write about events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite 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 that your husband picked up ice cream, 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 write, “My sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause “God was looking out for her” or “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. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now."

When I presented this the next day to my meditation group one of the women referred to it as gratitude. I think there's an important difference.  Gratitude is a feeling, and a depressed person knows she should feel grateful for the food on the table, etc. but may not feel anything but sad.  Asking "What went well?" is a cognitive exercise. Your brain does it. You don't have to appreciate what went well for you; you just note it. 

The morning after I read the above I had to go to the lab at the hospital for a blood draw before noon. It was one of those mornings when you're sort of out of tune, and it was hard to get out the door.  And the fuel light on my dashboard went on, oh no. There were no gas stations between here and there, and anyway, I was running late.  Then it went off and stayed off.  That went well.  I just hoped to make it to the lab, and I did.  Whew. That went well.

When I got to the hospital, the yellow area parking lot was half cordoned off for valet parking, and empty. Oh No, I thought, There won't be a spot in there, where will I park? but I pulled through the gate and spied, over to the left, a spot! I could hardly believe it. I didn't go around counterclockwise, the usual way, to get there, but ducked left and right in. So, I thought, That went well. Why? Because I was alert. Also, luck.

There were no patients waiting in the lab - That went well - and the phlebotomist was Cyndi, who can get me with one stick, no fooling around painfully trying to get into my narrow rolling veins. One stick, That went well.  Why? Because she is a competent professional, which is always so nice to find. Walking cheerfully to my car I realized my depression was gone.  Well. That convinced me to adopt this practice for the next week. And order the book.

(And I did manage to get to the gas station. So that went well, too.)
Thanks to my former-and-always neighbor Susan Barrett for publishing this post on her encouraging site, Wonder Anew


  1. Thank you, Jeanne, for telling about Seligman's helpful practice and always showing me how your teachings look in your life. That's when it becomes news I can use.

    Wonder Anew visitors are lucky that you shared your positive change.

  2. This is brilliant...thanks for sharing. We are so conditioned to look for things that happen wrongly just to confirm our bad luck.