Attitude of Gratitude: How Just Three Minutes Per Day Can Increase Joy, Happiness, and Resilience

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Shifting from Happy When to Happy Now.

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The views and opinions expressed in this collection are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Headshot Amy Phillips 2017 2MPx.jpg

Amelia Phillips currently serves as the director of wellbeing for the University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine in Tampa, Florida. Her areas of practice and scientific research include understanding and improving health and wellness behaviors among medical students, trainees, and other professional health students.

Challenge yourself with this simple journal practice: Each night, set a few minutes aside to write down three good things that happened that day. In the beginning, you may find it difficult to come up with what you consider “good enough” to be on your list — that’s perfectly normal, but entries can be big or small. Maybe you baked your favorite blueberry muffins for the first time since break, you got out of class 15 minutes early and had the chance to chat with a friend, or you assisted with the delivery of a baby during your OB-GYN rotation for the first time ever!

By recognizing even small moments of good in each day, we can rewire our brain to focus on the positive things in life. As human beings, naturally we are more sensitive to negative occurrences in life. We tend to remember bad or negative things that happen to us much longer than good things. As a result, we experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings such as anger or sadness much longer than the happy or feel-good emotions that result from something good that happens in our lives. This is what we call negativity bias.

While an overwhelming body of research shows that we feel negative emotions longer and often more intense than positive emotions, there’s good news: We can actually train our brains to become more positive. By regularly practicing gratitude, our brains will naturally begin to notice more positive aspects of our lives, leaving us happier and healthier.

Even more, gratitude builds resiliency, which allows us to better handle the negative situations that come our way. While we can’t fully eliminate stress or unpleasant situations, we can control how we respond.

Seem too good to be true? Try it for yourself and see! Set a goal to log each night for a consistent period of time — perhaps two weeks or 30 days.

And yes, there’s an app for it! Here are just a few that students have found helpful:

  • 3 Good Things - iPhone/Apple Store
  • Gratitude Journal (Delightful) - Android/Google Play

Helpful tips:

  • Set a reminder in your phone (or enable the app’s notification feature) to remind you to log each night
  • If you prefer to use a journal, try keeping it on your nightstand or somewhere that will help you to remember
  • Try to pair this new activity with something you’re already doing. You’re more likely to continue when it’s connected with an already-existing behavior. For example, maybe it’s immediately after you brush your teeth at night.

Note for administrators: Consider developing a program which incentivizes regular adoption of this behavior. Since research shows that positivity, happiness, and sense of gratitude can increase after just a short period of regular gratitude practice such as the Three Good Things activity, a short, incentivized program such as a “30-Day Challenge” may be beneficial for promoting resiliency and overall well-being. At the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the “Attitude of Gratitude: 3 Good Things Challenge” was designed using student input and open to all medical students, faculty, and staff. The program, which was designed to be completed anywhere and required minimal time commitment, was a great way to engage third and fourth years in wellness programming.

An example marketing piece from USF can be found here: Attitude of Gratitude Challenge - USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

Amelia Phillips, MPH, CH
Director of Wellbeing
University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine

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