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March 15, 2011


“Joy is the serious business of heaven, just as play is the serious business of childhood”. ~ C.S. Lewis
In his 1988 speech as incoming president of the American Psychological Association (APA), Martin Seligman made a riveting statement (which I now paraphrase): “On the scale of happiness, we psychologists have given ourselves the job of helping people move from - 5 to 0 . . . and we’re content with that. But what about 0 to +5? How do we get beyond mental illness, how do we help people find ways to increase their happiness?”. And so began the exploration of a new frontier which has come to be known as Positive Psychology. Seligman, who had already become famous for his study of depression (“learned helplessness”) eventually wrote books entitled Learned Optimism (1998) and Authentic Happiness (2002), reflecting his new orientation.

In the second of these books, Seligman documents an exercise which has been empirically proven to increase one’s global level of happiness.  This exercise, much like a gym workout, must be practiced at least several times a week in order to bring about lasting change.  Would you like to know what it is?  Would you like to be happier?

Well then, just send $29.99 to the following address. . . lol, just kidding!  Here it is; but I warn you, this exercise may seem too simple to really make a difference.  (Maybe you’d take it more seriously if you did have to pay for it?) Ready? OK, here goes:

Tonight, before you go to bed, think back on the day you have just completed . . . and identify your three favourite moments.  

Umm, basically, that’s about it. If you like, you can write down your good moments—which could be anything from eating a really great cinnamon bun to receiving a sincere compliment to hearing a bird sing while you were waiting for a bus—in a “Gratitude Journal” . . . but the main point is to simply identify and acknowledge them. This exercise, sometimes called “Three Blessings”, will quite likely increase your overall level of happiness. How? By causing you to focus on what is right about your day, to look for positive exceptions (if you are going through a difficult time), to cultivate gratitude and appreciation for your life, to enable you to fall asleep with the expectation of good things for the day ahead.  When I read the research on this exercise several years ago, I decided to put it into practice with my young sons.  We began to do it together every night at bedtime. I knew it was beginning to ‘take’ when my son Zac, who was about four at the time, told me one day when we were doing something fun, “Daddy, this is going to be my favourite thing.”

So, what gives you joy?

I love looking for flashes of joy in the midst of my days.  Often these come through the little moments that I might easily pass by in the often-frantic business of living: the laughter of one of my sons . . . a good breakfast shared with a friend . . . gliding my canoe through the mist of a mirror-still wilderness lake early in the morning (ahhh!) . . . an autumn run through dried leaves on Mount Royal . . . unexpectedly hearing “Here Comes The Sun” played in the métro by an itinerant guitarist . . . and I would invite you to make your own list. If you like, leave a comment with one of your three good moments. 

I close this reflection with a poem I love by Chief Dan George, "My Heart Soars”:

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me. 
The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me. 
The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dewdrop on the flower,
speaks to me. 
The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
They speak to me. 
And my heart soars. 


    1. Anonymous4:12 pm

      Only one? But there are so many.....words of encouragement/sincere compliment,beauty of nature, the freshness of Spring, sharing a good laugh, sunrise, a rainbow, cup of coffee/tea with a friend/loved one, a good book, Fall colours, a hug, Summer day by the water, note/letter/email from one dear to the heart, the music on loud when I'm driving alone in the car, a snow day when I don't have to go anywhere......and that is just a start. Thanks buddy, Sally

    2. Thanks, Sally! Those all sound good to me . . . except maybe for the snow day, right about now ;-)

    3. Anonymous2:48 am

      Hi - I am definitely glad to discover this. cool job!

    4. Slow down,even when your running and observe, (This is more than a fleeting glance)the world, whether it be a persons smile or a bird in flight.
      Some people have a high aptitude, but sadly have a poor attitude, thereby missing all of God's creations as they unfold in front of us for our enjoyment

    5. Thanks like this....