If you are familiar with traditional applied psychology, therapy, or counseling, you may be aware of the fact that there are several different protocols, or interventions, which may be employed to reduce the patients’ negative symptoms depending upon the presenting problem. Although Freudian psychoanalysis is not generally leveraged or deemed effective these days, many other forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective at reducing symptoms of mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. However, throughout his practice, Dr. Martin Seligman, former president of the APA, founder of positive psychology, and someone whose research has had tremendous impact on my own life over the past year found that “removing the disabling conditions… is not remotely the same as building the enabling conditions of life. If we want to flourish and if we want to have wellbeing, we must indeed minimize our misery; but in addition, we must have positive emotion, meaning, accomplishment, and positive relationships. [And] the skills and exercises that build these are entirely different from the skills that minimize our suffering.” Thus the field of positive psychology, intended to equip people with clinically proven skills to do just that was born. And one seemingly simple intervention which has shown to be incredibly effective at sustainably increasing one’s psychological wellbeing is Seligman’s What Went Well exercise.
Many studies and anecdotes support the idea that in general we spent too much time focused on the negative and what went wrong in comparison with the amount of time that we consider what went well. Seligman and many others have argued that “sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful [which sets them] up for anxiety and depression.” The cure? Increasing the amount of time and effort we devote to savoring what went well. The What Went Well exercise, validated in randomly assigned, placebo-controlled experiments, prescribes participants to set aside 10 minutes at the end of each day to write down three things that went well that day and why they went well.
The researchers were not particular about the format, paper or electronic, but required that there was a physical record of literally any three things which went well that day, no matter how big or small. And throughout the course of experiment there were entries ranging from “‘my husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today’ [to] ‘my sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy.'” After deciding on what went well in a given day, the participants captured the reason (or a potential reason) WHY that positive event occurred. Maybe they attributed the husband bringing home the ice cream to the fact that he a thoughtful person or that he was already stopping by the grocery store anyway. They may have thought that their new nephew was delivered safely because the sister had been committed to her own health throughout the pregnancy or that God had played a significant role in protecting the mother and baby. Although initially it was challenging or awkward for the participants to hypothesize the reasons why what went well went well, those that stuck to it throughout the duration of the study were “less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months [later].”
It’s little, seemingly small shifts, simple interventions and exercises which have a disproportionately positive effect on our happiness and wellbeing. Throughout the past year, some of my Happiness Project resolutions have been more abstract or challenging, but many have been just this easy. It’s amazing the impact that spending a few minutes to think about what went well today truly does have. Whether it’s been I earned a free coffee with my loyalty punch card, a random stranger complimented me on my shoes, I had dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in ages, or I earned my Whole30 certification – taking a moment to pause and reflect on the joys and successes of life is not only a self-sustaining, but also an incredibly rewarding activity.
One of the things that has consistently been going well as of late has been the sunshiny weather here in Cork! I can’t explain how happy I have been over the past few weeks to be experiencing the best summer of my time spent abroad. It’s allowed me to spend lots of time outside working, playing, eating and walking with my baby pups (one of my Summer Bucket List items). Plus a good summer has meant lots of opportunities for fresh and flavorful produce, including one of my summer favorites – cherries! Capitalizing on the rare chance to find fresh cherries in Ireland (and at non-exorbitant prices 🙂 ), I decided to pair them with a blackened tilapia in a savory salsa which resulted in something which definitely went well this week!
- Tilapia Filet (or any other white fish of your choosing!) 4 each
- Blackened Seasoning 2 TBSP (recipe HERE)
- Coconut Oil, Melted 1 TBSP
- Onion, Diced .25 cup (25 g)
- Jalapeno, Diced 1 small
- Cherries, Pitted and Roughly Chopped 1 cup (200 g)
- Cilantro/Coriander, Chopped .25 cup (13 g)
- Juice of 1 Lime
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 TBSP
- Sea Salt .25 TSP
- Black Pepper .25 TSP
- Start by preparing the cherry salsa, chop all the ingredients and mix together in a bowl. Refrigerate to chill while you prepare the fish.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Melt the coconut oil and brush both sides of the fish, placing on the foil lined pan.
- Sprinkle the blackened seasoning evenly over the fish and bake for about 10-12 minutes or until cooked through. The fish should be tender and flake easily.
- Top with the cherry salsa and ENJOY!