“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it
is like wrapping a gift and not opening it.”

— William Arthur Ward —

Has anyone ever told you to “be grateful for what you have” or “count your blessings?” Maybe your parents or grandparents reminded you to pay attention to the good things in life, frequently say thank you and appreciate what you have. As a teacher, you may have told your students “focus on your successes.” Here, we present a case of science catching up to old adage.

Martin Seligman, PhD

“We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, 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. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.” — Martin Seligman, PhD

Photo courtesy of University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Seligman is describing the negativity bias. The negativity bias states that our brains have evolved, and are now hardwired, to notice the negative aspects of life. Spotting threats was crucial for early humans, but it can be detrimental in today’s world. The goal of What Went Well is to begin to counteract the negativity bias and strike a balance in what you focus on each day. By developing a consistent gratitude practice, we can transform how we see the world. It has long been said that it is not happiness that brings us gratitude; rather, it is gratitude that brings us happiness.

Research shows that practicing What Went Well can have profound impacts on individuals and groups. It turns out that the advice to focus on the good things each day has many benefits ranging from physical health to mental wellbeing.

People who practice gratitude:

  • Are happier, healthier, and live longer
  • Are more optimistic and hopeful
  • Fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer
  • Exercise more frequently and have better cardiovascular health
  • Have stronger relationships and increased social support
  • Find greater meaning in their work
  • Perform better and achieve at higher levels
  • Are less depressed and anxious