rosesIt’s Spring! and the perfect time to start noticing and enjoying the more pleasant events in your day to day life. You may however be struggling with depression or anxiety and can’t quite find it in you to feel hopeful about anything right now. Maybe you are trying really hard to change a habit, like drinking or eating too much, but are feeling like the whole thing is too much effort. Maybe you have a job you don’t like but feel you can’t change right now or are facing another complicated life event (like a loss or death).

Feeling painful emotions or facing difficult life events can make it easy to miss the times during the day when things aren’t so bad, and are maybe even really pleasant (if even for a moment). One helpful way to keep your balance during a difficult period is to practice the 3 Moments, also known as the “Stop and Smell the Roses” technique. Research has actually shown that incorporating some version of this exercise into you daily your routine can increase your happiness a lot! Not only can it make the day to day more enjoyable, but it can have a lasting positive impact on your overall well being.

What are the Three Moments?

The exercise is simple and should be carried out daily, although even doing it once a week is often helpful: Write down or tell someone about three moments that went well today or that you appreciated and why. These three moments can be big or small, about something you did yourself, something someone else did, or about something that you observed in the world around you.

Some Examples:

  • I had a great conversation with my mother that went well because…
  • I took a walk in the park and the flowers were in bloom and it made me feel…
  • I woke up and saw my wife playing on the floor with our son and it made me appreciate…
  • I had a great meeting at work – we got a lot done and it relieved the stress I’d been having about…

On some days this exercise may seem easy, especially if your day was filled with enjoyable events. On other days it may be a lot harder. On those days do your best to identify three moments nonetheless, even if they are seemingly mundane.

Also, at first you may sometimes find yourself prefacing your moments with a disclaimer or negative statement, or ending with a “But….” For the sake of practicing this skill try to stay aware of this impulse and edit out those statements, leaving only the positive.

It’s also useful to keep track of your daily three moments in a journal or diary. This will help you evaluate your level of happiness, as well as help you identify the different variables in your life which contribute to happy and life-fulfilling moments.

Why does the 3 Moments practice work?

Shifting focus: On the most immediate level, just taking the time to identify those three moments in your day offers valuable practice in shifting focus from the things that went wrong to the things that went right.

Appreciate what you have: Research has shown that happy people aren’t happy because they have inherently easier lives. They are happy because they allow themselves to appreciate and cherish what they have and how they live. By pausing to identify three things in your day that went well, you are building a valuable skill that will make it easier to enjoy your life even more. In addition, you may also experience a feeling of gratitude (whatever that means to you) which has been shown to be inextricably linked with happiness.

Self-reinforcing: If you do this daily, you’ll soon realize you’ve created a new habit for yourself that can change the way you look at and experience life. Even when not deliberately practicing the exercise, you may instinctively start noticing more positive moments while you are experiencing them, not only in retrospect. Meaning, while experiencing a pleasurable moment you may note to yourself “this could be one of my 3 moments I list at the end of the day.” This awareness of a positive moment in real-time will enhance your pleasure of it even more.

Sharing the wealth: If you have someone with whom you would feel comfortable practicing this exercise out-loud, you have the opportunity to share in that person’s positive moments as well, which can teach us to find more pleasure and reward from those same things in our own lives. In addition, an important result of being aware of and sharing your happiness is that it’s ‘contagious’…others will also start to feed this same positivity back to you.

Building awareness:
– of our surroundings: So often we do not find the time or energy to “stop and smell the roses.” Doing this exercise can increase your awareness of all those positive experiences during the day that easily can get forgotten or ignored. This can enhance your awareness of sensory enjoyment and increase your appreciation for smaller positive moments.

– of our thoughts: As mentioned earlier, you may find it hard to come up with a positive moment without beginning with a disclaimer or ending with a negating statement. When you force yourself to state only the positives you will begin to develop awareness of habitual negative thoughts as they come up. This awareness with give you the control to create new habits if you wish to do so.

This exercise can be challenging. Identifying the positive moments in your day can feel awkward and uncomfortable. You may have an easy time one day and a harder time the next. Stick with it, try again, don’t give up and don’t judge yourself. Remember, most enjoyable and gratifying activities did not start out as feeling natural or easy. And the ones that demand a lot of effort at first often lead to feeling real achievement and satisfaction once you’ve mastered them. And in the process, you will likely find yourself feeling happier!